DUNBAR, W.Va. — During the May 23, 2017 meeting of the Kanawha County Commission, Institute resident Kathy Ferguson brought five African-American children to the meeting to advocate for improving the basketball courts at Shawnee Park.
While the facility was set to undergo redevelopment as part of the transformation into a multi-sports complex, redeveloping the basketball court was toward the bottom of the list of projects.
“It seemed to me there were some sports that were highlighted and not really in the wheelhouse of the sports that the kids were already playing,” she said. “I wanted to make sure there was something that would allow them not to just look out at the periphery, but to actually be over here and participate.”
On Tuesday, the Kanawha County Commission opened the new basketball courts for the public to use.
Ferguson said the courts had been unusable for 20 years because of damage and lack of care.
“The idea of them putting in a new sports complex at a cost of $10 million, I just felt as if really and truly our kids deserved to have something back that they had that wasn’t maintained,” she said. “I’m glad that this is here and I’m excited about seeing life back down in this area.”
The complex is being developed to host regional and youth sports tournaments.
Kanawha County Commissioner Ben Salango, who has spearheaded the effort to redevelop the park, said he realized the courts needed to be done, but after last year’s meeting, the issue was moved to phase “A” of work at the site.
“I wanted to get these courts open immediately for the kids,” he said. “I appreciate Kathy Ferguson and those little boys who showed up to the commission meeting and said, ‘We don’t play lacrosse. We don’t play soccer. We play basketball.'”
Salango said after the meeting, he contacted the project architects about moving the project forward.
“We actually are listening,” he said. “They expressed a concern to us and we heard it and reacted.”
Ferguson said she is appreciative of the move, but hopes more is done to improve the area as a whole. She noted infrastructure development and economic opportunities besides for standing restaurants and hotels as possible initiatives.
“Unfortunately, they haven’t developed any microloans or any types of incentives to help people in the area start those types of businesses,” she said. “I’m hopeful that maybe with the (West Virginia) Black Chamber of Commerce and some folks we can figure out how to get folks have some economic interests.”
A ribbon-cutting ceremony for the sports complex is expected to be held in July.