As of Saturday at 10 a.m., the weed patch has become a green, new baseball park.
The words from the movie are something like, "If you build it, they will come." The question is, "But will they come to build it?" In Helper, the answer is yes.
In a little more than two hours, a volunteer force of more than 85 kids and adults laid 38,000 square feet of new sod over the old Helper Pony League Ballfield Saturday morning. No longer a desert wasteland, the place is looking like a baseball park again.
Saturday's effort capped off two weeks of labor at the field to get the diamond ready for spring practice for the 11 Little League teams that will use it. So far, the work has included:
- demolishing and replacing the dilapidated fence around the park;
- weed removal and grading of the lot;
- hauling off the deteriorated planks from bleachers;
- getting rid of debris from the access road; and
- installation of a new secondary and primary water sprinkler system.
The work has been a cooperative effort between Helper City and volunteers. The sod-laying brought in people from all over the surrounding area. Workers from Kenilworth, Spring Glen, Price, Carbonville, Helper Junior High, Carbon High and the college turned out, according to Carol Chiara, who was keeping track.
What remains to be done is to lay the dirt in the infield, install the bases and backstop. While that is happening, the new grass will be taking root.
Earlier this month, the county's Recreation/Transportation Special Service District committed to grant $25,000 in federal mineral lease money to buy materials and supplies for this first phase of construction. Labor has been volunteered by citizens or furnished by Helper's public works team.
"I estimate that what we have done so far is worth between $35,000 and $40,000. Out actual out-of-pocket expenses have been only $16,000," said Sam Chiara, who got the project going.
That means that volunteers and contributions have paid for more than half of the improvements so far.
Chiara has been the organizing force behind the restoration. He created Heritage Ballfields, a non-profit organization that would receive funds from grants and contributions. Chiara, along with Helper Mayor Dean Armstrong, presented the case for restoration to the RTSSD.
Primarily, the 11 Little League teams that play in Helper have only one field to practice and play on. Reopening the Pony League park would double the capacity, they said. Also, many of those teams come from outside Helper to play, so it is not strictly for the benefit of Helper residents only.
There are two more phases that Chiara and other baseball fans would like to see: Scorer's booth and scoreboard and a restroom would make the field suitable for competition. Further down the road, there might be improvements in access and parking, and construction of a concession stand and other amenities that could turn the area into an expansion of the city's existing park and swimming pool into a recreation complex.