The Keyser City Council's decision to put the Alkire Mansion and the majority of Mill Meadow Park up for auction has left a lot of questions in my mind and, quite frankly, the whole thing just confuses me.
By Liz Beavers
Tribune Managing Editor
The Keyser City Council’s decision to put the Alkire Mansion and the majority of Mill Meadow Park up for auction has left a lot of questions in my mind and, quite frankly, the whole thing just confuses me.
Why would a council that ran on, and has prided itself in, providing places to go and things to do for the community’s families want to sell a city park?
Perhaps because they really don’t understand how many people use and enjoy the serene spot where they can get away from the rat race of their day and enjoy a quite picnic lunch, or a peaceful walk with their dog?
Do they know how many moms and dads use the mansion and/or gazebo for a backdrop for prom pictures or wedding pictures?
Do they remember that students from the Technical Center helped build the walking trail that is located at the foot of the mountain and which provides a nice getaway for someone looking to get back to nature - if only for a moment or two?
After listening to all the arguments, I kind of get why the city wants to sell the mansion. Utilities and upkeep for a building that size are not cheap. And the plan to let volunteers like Leon and Norm Ravenscroft renovate it to the point where it can be rented and utilized by the community was made by the previous administration - not the current officials.
Although I still maintain that it could be turned into an asset to the community by following that plan (which I believe would eventually pay for itself through rental fees), I understand it will take money to get to that point and it’s apparently money that the city does not have.
I applaud them for saying they will include in the sale agreement the fact that the building cannot be torn down and that the facade has to be maintained, and I challenge them to follow up on that and keep that promise.
However, what about the money that was donated by various organizations and individuals for the Historical Foundation to do the work at the mansion?
According to Frank Roleff, there were many donations made by groups and individuals who were excited about the prospect of:1. Keeping the mansion intact and 2. turning it into venue to be used by the community.
If the mansion is sold, he feels the city should return that money to those donors.
I have to say, if I had donated $300 toward the restoration of the mansion, as the Limestone CEOS did, for example, I would be quite upset that the original plans were not followed through with.
And speaking of the CEOS (or if you’re “old school” like me, the Extension Homemakers), does the city know how many hours those ladies put in to raising funds to build the gazebo that still stands in the park?
Evelyn Johnson, president of the Limestone CEOS, told me that Margie Rhodes in particular set up sales every Saturday and Sunday at the park, selling “anything and everything we could gather up to sell” to raise money to build that gazebo.
Rhodes, who has since passed away, is memorialized by a beautiful natural stone that still sits in front of the gazebo.
If the park is sold, what will become of that stone? Or the gazebo itself?
In addition to the CEOS’s efforts at the park, I vaguely remember Pete Peterson using his considerable construction skills to build and install some play equipment out there, using railroad ties and recycled tires to create a dragon for the kids to climb on, a slide using the natural incline of the hill, and some swings.
Mill Meadow over the years has truly been a community project.
But here is the really big question: How can the city sell the portion of the park property that is actually co-owned by the county?
When Mayor Damon Tillman told me hat the sale would include all the property from the stream up to the old tennis courts, my memory kicked in and I thought - from many years of covering both the city and county governments - that there was a co-ownership situation related to Mill Meadow.
A couple of recent conversations with a representative of the county has confirmed my memory: Both the city and county own a portion of the wooded section of the property that exists between what everyone thinks of as Mill Meadow Park (where the gazebo and a storage building are) and the old tennis courts.
Given the strained relationship that currently exists between the city and county, I’m not sure how that’s going to work!
I will say this: I have heard who the agency is that wants to buy the mansion. Assuming that they do get the structure, I have confidence they will take care of it and abide by the stipulations that the facade be maintained and the building be kept and not torn down.
So I can find peace in my heart with the sale of the Alkire Mansion.
However, I feel very strongly that the park needs to be kept for the citizens of the area to have access to and enjoy. A lot of community cooperation has gone into that park over the years, and it needs to be maintained for the use and enjoyment by the community.
In a world that is rapidly being paved over and concreted, we need more areas like Mill Meadow!
Liz Beavers may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.