Dick Gunnoe Park could see a new, two-story recreational facility constructed right next to the White Sulphur Springs Community Pool.
Local entrepreneur and White Sulphur Springs advocate Tom Crabtree announced the project during the November 8 City Council meeting. Crabtree brought several architectural drawings to the front of the room, pointing to different locations on a map of the park.
“You might recognize this property, [it is] what we used to call Villa Park, the Dick Gunnoe Memorial Park,” Crabtree said. “This is the new White Sulphur Springs swimming pool, and this is the existing football field and tennis courts and basketball courts and baseball and softball fields, and right here will be a new family activity center for White Sulphur Springs. It’s just perfect, it’s surrounded by all of these wonderful recreation facilities. Parking is already there, we’re expanding it a little bit, … It’s a perfect place for this kind of facility.”
The recreation facility partnered with a number of organizations and individuals to get off the ground, including the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine (WVSOM).
“The project aligns with WVSOM’s mission to make sure that this is the healthiest county, healthiest city in the state, and I think we can do that,” said WVSOM Director of Community Outreach Julian Levine. “[Think about the] health equity, every kid in White Sulphur deserves to live the healthiest life possible, regardless of their zip code, and that’s what I think this can do. I think it’s something that is going to be a model throughout the country to build something like this. We’re also here at the front end – we’re going to evaluate it, and we’re going to make it work.”
Crabtree flipped from Dick Gunnoe Memorial Park to the next printed architecture drawing, a sketch of the inside of the facility.
“The idea of this facility is to promote the health of the community, youth through elderly folks. … It will house a lot for different potential activities. This is a new gymnasium with an aerobics area. [There is a] multi-purpose space that can handle … volleyball, pickleball, all kinds of different activities. You’ll enter here into a lobby, which will double as a lobby and an informal dining area so that if we have an after-school program for kids, they can get a healthy snack here, spend time hanging out. [There are] lockers, restrooms, a kitchen, an outdoor concession stand to serve the outdoor areas with outdoor restrooms, and some outdoor storage spaces that will serve the fields that [already] exist. This is the second floor, which includes a running track, and a big yellow game room there.”
|An outline of the first floor of the facility was shown by Crabtree and Drema Mace Hill, WVSOM Vice President for Community Engagement and Development.|
Funding for the project is not yet in place, but several possibilities have Crabtree optimistic about fundraising prospects.
“[It is], all in all, $2.4 million project. It’s not nearly as daunting a challenge as the Aquatic Center, which is much, much more expensive and larger project with three swimming pools. We certainly expect to get support from the sporting club members and the community as a whole. And we will be seeking grants from a number of foundations. … We have some … substantial funding sources out there that I happen to be familiar with through being active in the Aquatic Center. We will be seeking funding from some of the same sources.”
In fact, fundraising has already begun.
“We’ve already received two substantial leadership gifts,” Crabtree continued. “One of which is from the Peyton Foundation, Angus Peyton is here. … Dan Evans, [a 20-year White Sulphur resident and former Indiana medical school and hospital CEO], made the first leadership gift. That gift resides with the Community Foundation, who will be our fiscal sponsor, so that any gifting that is done will benefit the giver with the tax benefits that go along with structured charitable giving, with the best practices foundation.”
Should the funding come together, the facility will join the White Sulphur Springs Community Pool shortly.
“I think it’s possible to start construction this spring and [have it] completed within a year,” said Crabtree. “That will depend on everything going as we expect it to, but I think that’s a very real goal. I want to capture the moment that we are experiencing here, with the kind of energy that this community is seeing and feeling. New businesses on Main Street, imagine that in White Sulphur Springs. So yes, we expect to get it going quickly. We are not messing around.
The involvement of WVSOM, similar to the Clingman Center in downtown Lewisburg, would allow for the health programs to be evaluated and adjusted for best practices, allowing a “how-to” guide to be written for other communities interested in creating this type of facility that don’t have easy access to health professionals.
“I can say that the school is really excited to be here for the long haul and finding a way to be a partner in the short term, figuring that out, and in the long term for research and evaluation. … The idea for WVSOM, short-term, is to go to the community and find out, before you build something like this, what the community sees and what the community wants. In the long term, it’s exciting to have WVSOM’s expertise because they evaluate the programs that are there, make the case for them, why we do this, and adjust them to make sure they are what the community deserves, bringing the expertise that’s out there, and doing research.
Me’Schaud White, a local coach for youth sports in White Sulphur Springs, came to his first council meeting on Monday to ask council or someone to get more involved in providing recreation and opportunities for local kids. After his initial comments at the beginning of the meeting, Mayor Bruce Bowling told him to just wait for the announcement. At the end of the meeting, White hoped to see the facility come to be.
“We’ve been involved in community sports for years now,” said White. “And you know, it’s real important, damn near dire, to understand how important [it is to have] a place for these kids. … You’ve got to understand this, them being idle, and them just being here is not enough. It’s not enough just to exist. I went through it when I was a kid, my life was rough when I was a kid. That’s what pushed me, even more, to do what I’m doing right now …. Like you have no idea how much it means to us. We’ve been sick for almost two years now, and it’s a worry, it’s a stress. … It’s major, and I hope that things go through.”
Crabtree and the team all expressed how possible the project seems to be.
“The goal … is to make White Sulphur Springs and Greenbrier County, the healthiest community in West Virginia. Now that’s a tall order,” Crabtree said. “But we have a really great group of people including the School of Osteopathic Medicine and Dan [Evans] with his years of experience, and Warren [May] with his ability to twist arms and get people to enjoy giving to a facility like this. I think we’ve got all the right ingredients to really make it something special.”
|Crabtree points to the location of the new facility.|
Bowling and the entire council celebrated the announcement during and after the meeting.
“The good times keep on rollin’,” Bowling posted to social media with the announcement. “It is with great pleasure [that] we announce the plans for the Greenbrier Valley Family Activity Center at Dick Gunnoe Memorial Park. Rebuilding a gym for our youth sports has been a top priority for the City of White Sulphur Springs, WV, and thanks to continued hard work, innovative vision, and generous commitment of donors new and old, the plan is in motion. Stay tuned.”
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