The dilapidated chain link fence around the old Helper Pony League ballfield is gone, the field is graded and the warped boards on the bleachers have disappeared. Restoration has begun.
Thanks to a commitment from the Carbon County Recreation/Transportation Special Service District, the work will continue with high hopes that the diamond will be ready for Little League spring training. At its meeting Wednesday, the board voted to authorize $25,000 for first-phase funding of the project.
"That amount should fund us through phase one and, with all our volunteer help, make a good start on phase two," said Sam Chiara in an interview Monday. Chiara, who formed the non-profit Heritage Ballfields organization to handle the project, said the the first phase will prepare the field for practice and the second phase will ready the park for competition.
The board's decision was a slight deviation from standard district policy, which usually does not fund projects in municipalities. However, since Chiara pointed out that the Helper field will serve teams from all over the county, the board decided the project was within the rules because it would serve the county's general population. Young players from Carbonville, Spring Glen and Kenilworth are already trying to squeeze practice and game time in at the city's single existing field. Rehabilitating the Pony League park will double the capacity.
Mayor Dean Armstrong, representing Helper as the sponsoring agency, also told the board that the city is committing thousands of dollars of in-kind support for the project. That includes land valued at $40,000 and irrigation water estimated at $6,000.
"We're not coming to you guys for the first dollar on this," Armstrong assured the board members.
Heritage Ballfields will not get its check until next month. The board did not alter its policy of waiting a month before approving an application and cutting a check. However, members did agree to commit the funds, which means the money will stay in the district's bank account until formal approval next month.
The special service district is an independent agency created by the County Commission to evaluate projects and allocate funds received from federal mineral lease money. It is self-supporting, meaning that the money for its investments and operations comes entirely from royalties on fossil fuel production. There are no property or sales tax dollars involved.
Chiara said that the next major step will be sod laying, which will begin at 8 a.m. on Sept. 25. He said volunteers are needed to help lay 30,000 square feet of sod.