By LEIGH C. MERRIFIELD
News & Journal Editor
One of the orders of business at Monday evening’s City Council meeting was to swear in the city’s new Community Development Director A.J. Hammond. That position has been vacant since the resignation of Reuben Perdue late in the summer. Hammond began his new duties on January 2, 2017.
Married just this summer, A.J. and his wife ‘Gabe’ made Shinnston their first home! Both are Pennsylvania natives and recent college graduates – she from WVU and he from Liberty University in Lynchburg, VA.
A.J. says he applied for the position in October, so it seemed like a rather lengthy process before a decision was made; however, he is looking forward to getting involved in the community and making a difference. Already, he has become familiar with the area, local businesses and many citizens. He noted that while moving in, his mother-in-law came to help out, and as they drove into the downtown area, they got stuck in traffic halted for the Alumni Homecoming parade.
“We saw firsthand how involved the people get over something like this,” he elaborated. “We have since witnessed other parades and events like Frontier Days and high school sporting events. We found these to be great opportunities to meet a lot of people. We find Shinnston to be a very tight-knit community but also a very welcoming community. In fact, we were unable to travel home to be with our families for Thanksgiving this year for the first time, but we had invitations from several local families to join them for the holiday! That doesn’t happen everywhere.”
With just a little more than a week ‘on the job’, A.J. has concentrated on becoming familiar with contacts and getting acclimated. He is learning what goes into the position and has found that there are a lot of ‘behind the scenes’ responsibilities for the Community Development Director that citizens may not be aware of.
Among his duties will be planning, organizing and overseeing special events as well as the running of the pool at Ferguson Memorial Park.
“I will be taking a pool operator class soon in Morgantown that will give me a wealth of information that will help me find the right person for the pool manager’s position,” he stated. “It’s hard to believe that while we’re having such cold weather, it is also time to plan ahead for the coming season. We’ll soon be taking applications for the pool manager’s post as well as recruiting lifeguards.”
Working closely with City Manager Amy Wilson, A.J. will explore the bad buildings program while also working with a team of people from WVU to decide what to do to try to fill some of the empty buildings. He will also tackle some grant writing.
“I’m anxious to do all I can to bring economic growth to the City so that it can grow and move forward,” he added. “I have seen that there is great history in Shinnston for moving forward with grants. The City has a good reputation for finishing grant projects and that makes it easier to acquire future grants when they know that previous grants received have not been neglected. I will want to capitalize on this.”
Hammond noted that he was impressed with plans that have been ‘in the works’ for an Activities Park in the area near the Little League fields. “I have been involved already in updating paperwork for that project so that we can continue to move forward on this. I was impressed that when originally looking into this project, the City asked for suggestions from area children who would be using that park as to what they would like to see it include. Among other things, there is a walking trail planned along with a kids’ climbing feature and play area. We have to find a way to incorporate parking for this feature because as more kids utilize this area, they will bring their families along so there will be a need for ample parking facilities nearby. Proper planning takes time to do it right, and I am really looking forward to being a part of the ‘team’ that helps to develop this!”
Coming from the York, PA area that is home to 100,000 residents, Hammond says he is delighted with the small town atmosphere in Shinnston, and in his six months as a resident here, he has noticed a great deal of community support and pride.
“People seem to want to get involved and help. I want to harness these volunteer efforts and see that grow as well,” he added.
He sees the Rail Trail as a wonderful asset for the Shinnston area and something with great possibilities.
“Getting folks to come here to utilize the trail also encourages these visitors to take notice of its businesses,” he said. “I am aware that the Harrison Rail Trails had a meeting that gave attendees a chance to walk the trail and take notes on its needs. One of the things they noticed was that it lacked signage. The city not to work on that and signage was in place prior to the Turkey Trot when there was an opportunity for people to notice it. There will be another meeting at the Woman’s Club on January 24th from 6 to 8 p.m. and we’d like for the public to attend that as well – and we hope to get some younger people to come and offer their ideas too.”
Hammond and the City Manager will be attending a meeting to find out more on the P to P (Pittsburgh to Parkersbug) issue. Apparently the only piece missing to the trail from these two cities is the connectivity between Clarksburg and Shinnston.
“We are aware that there are some groups of bike riders who visit other trail sections often but only come to Shinnston once,” he elaborated. “There are some rough spots we’d like to fix and enhance our trail, which might lead to more visibility and greater access for these groups. We need to utilize what we have and make it better.”
In his six months as a resident of Shinnston, the new Community Development Director has cultivated a fondness and appreciation for the small town atmosphere. He has a lot of energy and enthusiasm and is eager to make a difference here. He invites public input and can be reached at [email protected] or by calling 304-592-5631.