WHEELING – Several ideas were tossed against the wall this week during the city of Wheeling’s first public work session to discuss ways to spend $ 29 million in federal pandemic relief funds, but one interesting new recreation proposal seemed to stick and strike a common chord among several members of city council.
City leaders indicated that about $ 26 million from the city’s American Rescue Plan Act allocation remains, and the city needs to move forward with eligible projects by the deadline at the end of 2024.
Many people have many different ideas for the money’s use, and the city is gathering input from the public via an online survey through the end of April.
While council members have expressed a need to prioritize spending on invest in infrastructure projects, street paving, demolition of dilapidated structures, day care needs and helping to fund viable projects through local nonprofits, a number of city leaders noted that the funds could be used to move forward with major improvements to the Nelson Jordan Center.
The city recently acquired the former Clay School – a massive vacant structure in East Wheeling that is expected to be razed – and city officials are gravitating toward the idea of constructing a new Nelson Jordan Center on that site.
“The Nelson Jordan Center is something that I think, unless you’re in that neighborhood, you may not be familiar with it,” Mayor Glenn Elliott said. “But it’s something that I think really is showing some neglect, and we do need to make a decision as to whether we reinvest into that facility or we relocate it. With the acquisition of the Clay School – coming under city ownership – we have an opportunity there to look at something given the city’s prior investments in the sports complex across the street. “
The Clay School is situated directly across 15th Street from the JB Chambers Memorial Recreation Park in East Wheeling. The $ 3.3 million sports complex is relatively new – dedicated in 2015 – and boasts fields for soccer, lacrosse, football, baseball, softball and more. Adjacent to the park is the Elks Playground, another newer addition to the East Wheeling neighborhood.
The sports complex replaced 32 properties on that block, many of which were dilapidated.
Aside from razing and removing the Clay School building, city officials have not announced any solid plans for the property. However, the proposal of constructing a new Nelson Jordan Center on the site has apparently been gaining traction.
“I envision a revitalized Nelson Jordan Center at Clay School to coincide with the project that we already have – the field right across the street,” Councilman Dave Palmer said, noting that a new facility could serve as a new indoor recreation center while also providing restroom facilities for people visiting the sports complex, locker rooms for teams that use the fields and other accomodations.
Two years ago, the city marked the 70th anniversary of the Nelson Jordan Center, but noted that the aging recreational hub for the neighborhood was in dire need of some upgrades – with no air conditioning, deteriorating facades, poor lighting and antiquated facilities.
Ward 3 Councilwoman Rosemary Ketchum, who represents East Wheeling, noted that she would like to see some of the ARP funds to go toward the Nelson Jordan Center.
“The Nelson Jordan Center is the only city-owned recreation center in Wheeling, tucked away in the hill – in the mountain – there in East Wheeling,” Ketchum said. “We’re doing some great work there. I think we can do a lot more to that space to improve it and to make it as accessible and wonderful as I think it ought to be.
“It’s a historically Black institution, as well, so I’d love to see a portion of these funds dedicated to that space.”
Using ARP funding on the Nelson Jordan Center checks a number of boxes from the list of federal spending guidelines, officials noted. With center upgrades or through construction of a new center, the relief funds could have an impact on a portion of the community that was affected by the pandemic, add to the community’s health and recreation options and go toward improvements in a lower-income area – all of which point toward ARP funding eligibility.
Although infrastructure investments seem to be heavy on the minds of city leaders with millions of one-time federal pandemic relief money in hand, recreation improvements will likely see a boost in the city because of this windfall of money.
“I’d like to see significant investment in recreation – whether it’s trails, a kayak launch and more waterfront investment,” Councilman Ty Thorngate said. “I think all of our city baseball fields could use some types of upgrades … I’d like to see us re-do the (roller) hockey facility at Tunnel Green, and obviously address the needs of the Nelson Jordan Center.”