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Young resident plans school protest

November 23, 2012
Weirton Daily Times

NEWELL - Jackson Wilson doesn't look like the kind of guy who would hold a protest sign or chant slogans against a school board.

But that's what he and a group of Hancock County residents plan to do from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturday in front of Newell Memorial Field.

Wilson, 19, of Lawrenceville is a mild-mannered young man with short hair and glasses. A local history buff, he started the Memories of Hancock County and Brooke County, W.Va. Facebook group last year and is studying history, with a concentration in public history, at Shepherd University in Shepherdstown

As a student at Oak Glen High School, Wilson said he was like a lot of other students who showed only a nominal interest in what the school board was doing.

But the Hancock County Board of Education's proposed sale of Newell Memorial Field has changed all that.

He uses words like "corrupt" to describe the board and thinks the board has not listened to the community regarding the sale of the football stadium property.

"It seems like they're working for their own agendas instead of for us," Wilson said. "They've basically brushed the (Chester Volunteer) Fire Department under the rug. They won't talk to the community."

The fire department has made several attempts at buying the 4.25-acre property on state Route 2 in Newell, including submitting a bid of $50,000 at the Oct. 25 auction. That bid was rejected by the board as too low because the minimum bid had been set at $250,000.

Previously, Chester Fire Chief John Hissam offered to pay $150,000, $250,000 and $300,000 for the property, but the school board has insisted on a public auction as the best way to comply with state law and stay accountable to taxpayers.

Residents opposed to the auction option believe it could open the door to a private developer buying the land and developing it for purposes at odds with the public good. Hissam has said the fire department wants to maintain the property for the annual Fall Bash fundraiser and for use by youth athletic leagues and other community organizations.

A second auction had been scheduled for Nov. 30, but, on Monday, the school board canceled the auction indefinitely. Board members met with Hancock County Commissioners Mike Swartzmiller and Dan Greathouse, and Patrick Ford, executive director of the Business Development Corp. of the Northern Panhandle.

At 9 a.m. Monday, Hancock County commissioners are meeting to discuss unspecified economic development opportunities.

Wilson, a 2011 Oak Glen graduate who played saxophone in the marching band, said he decided to organize a protest when he realized other people agreed with him over the school board's handling of the sale. He said he's expecting "a couple dozen" protesters on Saturday.

Wilson said the stadium should be maintained not only as a community resource but also as an historic landmark.

"Besides the memories, it really is an important part of the county. When you think of Newell, other than Homer Laughlin, you think of Memorial Field," Wilson said. "It served Wells High School and Junior High School, so it's very historically significant."

Memorial Field was built as a war memorial in the 1940s. Its two brick pillars bear the dates 1917-1918, for World War I, and 1941-1945, for World War II. A memorial plaque contains the names of two Newell natives who died in World War I and 25 who died in World War II.

The stadium hosted its first home football game in 1950 and its last on Oct. 14, 2011, according to the website www.laurelhollowpark.net.

 
 

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