White Sulphur looks toward the future, while honoring the past

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Nearly 10 months after a 1,000-year flood devastated the town, the Spa City is getting its legs again.

At Monday night’s city council meeting, Mayor Lloyd Haynes announced that budget revisions were going to be made to the town’s coffers in the form of Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) reimbursements. Haynes said that $258,702.71 in FEMA reimbursements had been added to the town’s general fund.

Other items on the council’s agenda reflected continued progress in the rebuilding of the town, including renewed hope of repairing the municipal swimming pool. The pool has been closed for three years, and the repair or replacement was set to cost between $2 million to $3 million. Before last year’s flood, the city was struggling to find funds to pay for the pool; after the flood, the city’s attention turned to more pressing matters.

But now, said Council members Audrey Van Buren and Mark Gillespie, pool money has flowed back into the city’s hands.

Gillespie announced that the city has secured an unlimited matching-fund grant to restore the city pool, and the city is preparing to ask the Greenbrier County Commission for seed money.

“If we can raise $450,000, the grant will match that,” Gillespie said.

The city will pitch the grant request to the county commission’s Arts and Recreation Committee on Apr. 26. Arts and Recreation money is collected through a hotel/motel tax, and most of it comes to the county from The Greenbrier resort, located adjacent to White Sulphur Springs.

Gillespie encouraged White Sulphur Springs residents to express their support of the pool to the county commissioners and invite citizens to attend the Apr. 26 Arts and Recreation Committee meeting.

“Let’s show our force and plan our future,” said Gillespie, who emphasized that the matching-funds grant is contingent on acquiring seed money for the project.

The White Sulphur Springs pool site is located at Memorial Park, which runs along Howards Creek, and suffered extensive damage during the flooding. Memorial Park is currently unusable due to toxic contaminants and hazardous debris washed into the soil during the flooding, and league sports have been forced to move elsewhere until the city can secure funding to clean up the park.

VanBuren, who heads the city’s Parks and Recreation Committee, extended her gratitude to Lynch Construction and city workers who have worked to ready the city-owned Sterritt Farm property for spring and summer athletes. VanBuren stated that remediation for Memorial Park will go to bid this week.

Downtown, Old Mill Park is also being revitalized, she said, thanks to the efforts and donations of Blue Ridge Lumber and city employees.

“I’m just real excited. The parks are starting to come together,” VanBuren said. “We’re going to get a pool – something that is close to my heart. We are moving forward to be better than ever.”

VanBuren and Gillespie thanked city maintenance supervisor David Lovelace profusely for his crew’s hard work cleaning up the city, and Lovelace announced that crews have begun spring cleanup including cutting grass in preparation for the annual Dandelion Festival, held in White Sulphur Springs every Memorial Day weekend.

Kathy Glover with Main Street White Sulphur Springs announced details of this year’s festival. On May 6, the city has approved a “boot drive” on Rt. 60 to help raise funds for the annual event. Glover also announced some of this year’s attractions which include DJ Big Ugly from Roanoke, VA, who will provide tunes during Friday night’s antique car show (she also said Main Street is seeking antique car owners to display their vehicles), and performances by Ari Vaughan, the Black Mountain Bluegrass Boys, the band Bicycle and the High Voltage Cloggers.

There will also be a 5K walk to benefit CASA, a fishing derby, Memorial Day veterans celebrations, fireworks, and, on Sunday, the annual parade.

In a nod to Katherine Johnson, the African American mathematician and White Sulphur native who went virtually unnoticed until two years ago when she won the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her work with NASA to put men and women in space, the city will name the alleyway between the library and St. Thomas Episcopal Church Katherine Johnson Way. A dedication ceremony will be held May 26. Johnson’s story was told in last year’s hit, Oscar-nominated film “Hidden Figures.”

With the anniversary of the June 23 flood approaching, White Sulphur officials are also planning a memorial “celebration of life and revitalization,” slated to begin Friday, June 23, and stretching through the weekend. On June 23, the city plans to hold the official dedication of a memorial to those who perished in the flood and the grand opening of the new town museum, both of which are to be located in Old Mill Park downtown.