A foundation that will manage funds donated by Amazon Inc. for a new STEM center in Macon-Bibb was also behind the effort for a youth sports complex that’s been two years in the making.
After years of anticipation and a few false-alarm announcements about breaking ground soon, dirt is set to be moved this year for the construction of a Youth Development Center at Tom Fontaine fields on Anthony Road, parties involved with the project said.
The $1.5 million needed to build the sports complex with artificial grass was raised by the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation, the Bibb County Board of Education, the Boys & Girls Club of Central Georgia, United Way of Central Georgia, the Macon Housing Authority and Major League Baseball.
The property, behind Matilda Hartley Elementary School, changed hands twice in recent years. The county transferred the land to the school district in 2017. The school district is now working to transfer it to the Macon Housing Authority, Bibb County schools spokeswoman Stephanie Hartley said.
Jeff Battcher, administrator for the Macon league of Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities, a program administered by Major League Baseball, posted on the program’s Facebook page in April an announcement that said construction on the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation Youth Development Park would start in a matter of weeks.
However, construction has yet to begin due to “legal mumbo jumbo” and some questions about who owns the property, Battcher told The Telegraph on Tuesday.
“I’ve been pushing so hard for this because, as you know, this field will be built in one of the highest concentrations of poverty in United States of America,” Battcher said in an email to The Telegraph. “There’s no reason just because of where are you live and your family income you should not have access to the best quality multipurpose field.”
Mike Austin, chief executive officer for the housing authority, said the authority plans to set up an LLC that will own the land and lease it back to the other nonprofit agencies.
“We’re really excited about it,” Austin said. “I think it’s just really going to be a win for everybody.”
As for a timeline, Austin said the group of nonprofits is “still trying to get some agreements with the Board of Education,” which still owns the land.
“We’re putting some finishing touches on the memorandums of understanding with the other partners,” Austin said. “I hate to put an exact date on it, but I would love to see it start this year.”
A meeting to tie up loose ends among nonprofit partners and the school board is set to take place in the next 10 days, Austin said.
Once it’s built, the sports complex will be managed by the Boys & Girls club.
“After that, it becomes an issue of when can the construction companies come in and do what they need to do,” Austin said.
Reached by phone Wednesday, Randy Acosta, spokesman for the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation, told The Telegraph construction, weather permitting, would take about 100 days from start to finish.
Asked why work had not started, Acosta said there is some “administrative stuff that needs to be buttoned up” but “we’re hoping to start construction early Fall.”
The sports complex is in Macon-Bibb County Commissioner Bert Bivins’s district. Messages left for Bivins were not returned Wednesday.
New STEM center
At the grand opening of its new 1 million square feet warehouse in south Bibb County earlier this month, Amazon Inc. announced a $30,000 donation to the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation for the construction of a STEM center.
However, the location of the center has yet to be determined, Acosta said.
When it’s built, the STEM center will include computers, a 3D printer, furniture, and several of the following items, according to information provided by the foundation:
▪ Littlebits, electronic building blocks that combine to make circuits and accomplish different tasks.
▪ Bee-Bot, a programmable robot that uses buttons and simple commands.
▪ Code Hopper, a game that uses interlocking foam tiles to teach decision making and basic coding principles.
▪ Makey Makey, a programmable computer chip that connects coding and practical applications.