Powerball jackpot winner commits to public recreation center

W. Randy Smith's grandson factored into his decision to back project

January 19, 2011|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD |
  • W. Randy Smith holds a ceremonial check for $79 million after winning a Powerball jackpot in August 2010.
File photo

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — Plans to build a public recreation center in southern Berkeley County are moving "full steam ahead" thanks to a financial commitment from Powerball jackpot winner W. Randy Smith.

Martinsburg-Berkeley County Parks & Recreation Board Executive Director Steve Catlett told board members Tuesday that the project could cost as much as $1.5 million.

Smith, who won a $79 million lottery prize in August 2010, said Tuesday that he has put more money into the endowment fund that he established with the Eastern West Virginia Community Foundation to make the project possible. The former county sheriff and magistrate started the W. Randy Smith Family Fund with a $5 million gift last fall.

Smith said his 10-year-old grandson's interest in basketball factored into his decision to support the project for the Inwood-Bunker Hill area.

"He wants to play (basketball), but there's no place to go," Smith said.

Smith declined to say how much he intended to donate toward the project, but indicated he is committed to seeing the recreation center built, not just for his grandson and other young people, but for the entire community.

Catlett met Wednesday with Berkeley County school officials about possibly finding a suitable location, which he said could include Musselman High School or Mill Creek Intermediate School.

"Obviously, the other key to this is not having to purchase land and not having to purchase infrastructure, the water and sewer would be available, hopefully, and maybe even parking," Catlett said.

Amid meeting with Catlett on Wednesday, Berkeley County Schools Superintendent Manny P. Arvon in a brief interview touted the school system's relationship with the recreation board as a "long and outstanding partnership."

"This is just exploratory," Arvon said of the visit to various school campuses Wednesday with Catlett and school district construction manager Don Zepp.

Catlett said the county's second public recreation center could be about the same size as, if not a little larger than, the Berkeley 2000 Recreation Center in Martinsburg when it opened in 2002 at 16,800 square feet. That center is now more than 40,000 square feet, Catlett said.

Operating a second recreation center would add significantly more responsibility for Parks & Recreation Board staff, but Catlett said he was confident the agency could absorb the added demand and costs.

"In the eight-year history of this building, we have self-sustained the operation of this building and we can do that down there," Catlett said.

While the school district cannot help with the construction, Catlett said school officials would have access to use the facility and might be able to help the Parks & Recreation Board pay utility costs in return. The Berkeley 2000 Recreation Center is next to Martinsburg North Middle School.

Catlett said officials are exploring whether the new recreation center could be built by a private entity and then donated to the county for public use as a means to save money and avoid state-mandated prevailing wage requirements in construction.

Local government officials have long been critical of the prevailing wage law, which they say has made taxpayer-supported projects, including highway and school construction much more costly.

Catlett said the recreation center's cost could be reduced by $300,000 or more if prevailing wage isn't required.

A 100-acre regional park still is an absolute need in the southern end of the county, but Catlett said a recreation center would affect a large number of people in the community and go a long way to establishing the Recreation Board's "identity" there.

Catlett said the county manages just one park in the county's southern end —; the 20-acre Inwood-Bunker Hill Lions Park next to Mill Creek Intermediate School.

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