Concerned citizens fund Huntington, WV park projects - Beckley, Bluefield & Lewisburg News, Weather, Sports

Concerned citizens fund Huntington, WV park projects

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By JAMES E. CASTO

For The State Journal

When the former Miller Elementary School was demolished, neighborhood residents worried about what would happen to the property at 12th Avenue and 7th Street, in the heart of Huntington’s South Side residential district.

Now construction is underway on a small park at the site. The Greater Huntington Park and Recreation District purchased the property from the Cabell County Board of Education for $100,000. Huntington businessman Jim St. Clair and his son Sam provided the funds for the Park District to do so.

The original idea, explained Park District Executive Director Kevin J. Brady, was that the park would simply be a welcome spot of “green space” in the neighborhood.

But the park now taking shape is more than that.

It also will memorialize the former school that stood there and the victims of the Newtown, Conn., school shooting of Dec. 14, 2012.

The $30,000 needed to purchase the materials needed for the park has been raised in a campaign led by Sterling Hall, retired president of Huntington Steel. Phoebe Patton Randolph of Edward Tucker Architects donated her design services for the project.

Twenty-six trees at the park will honor the six teachers and 20 students slain at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Creation Gardens & Design and G&G Nursery, both of Lesage, donated the trees. A small courtyard will include park benches, two concrete signs saved from Miller Elementary and a monument to the school shooting victims.

“People ask why build a park in Huntington to memorialize people killed in Connecticut,” said Hall. “Something like this can happen any place, including here. Twenty children died that day. It doesn’t matter where they were from.”

Hall has been a long-time friend of the Huntington park system. He and his family donated $200,000 to build the plaza and fountain at Ritter Park’s 10th Street entrance. Since its completion in 2000, the fountain, dedicated to his late grandfather, B. Sterling Diddle, a former park commissioner, has become a local landmark.

“What people don’t realize,” said Brady, “is that Sterling and his family also contributed to a foundation that will pay for the fountain’s operation and upkeep over the years.”

Brady says tax funding for the Huntington park system is the lowest of any municipal park system in West Virginia.

“We get only 1.6 cents of each local tax dollar that’s collected,” he said. “As a result, it sometimes seems like we don’t have enough money in our budget to do much more than keep the grass cut.

“Certainly we couldn’t take on projects such as the new Miller Park or the fountain without the generous support of concerned citizens.”

Public support, Brady noted, also was essential to erecting the Memorial Bell Tower at the park system’s Spring Hill Cemetery.

Dedicated in 2013, the tower memorializes the sacrifice of local veterans, along with the victims of the Nov. 14, 1970 Marshall University plane crash and the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Among the people killed in the 2001 attacks was physician and Huntington native Paul Ambrose.

The 31-foot tower and its 600-pound bronze bell stand within feet of Ambrose’s gravesite and just over a hill from the MU plane crash memorial.

The $186,000 project has been significantly funded through the purchase of American flags, which are placed as part of Huntington’s annual Healing Field. It has become a Patriot Day tribute to those who died in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Brady estimates the Park District still owes approximately $90,000 on construction of the tower but hopes to pay down the balance through the continued sale of American flags for the Healing Field.