Macon kids soon will have their pick of new and newly improved facilities to play ball.
Construction will begin on a $1.5 million multipurpose sports complex in the next couple months. Field upgrades were unveiled at Tom Fontaine ballpark last week. Now, a property sale will put Henderson Stadium in line for upgrades, too.
During their Thursday meeting, Bibb County Board of Education members agreed to buy the Ed DeFore Sports Complex — next to Westside High School on Heath Road — from Macon-Bibb County for $3.8 million. The sale should close by the end of the month, said Randy Howard, chief legal counsel for the school district.
"It's going to allow us to have complete ownership so we can be responsible for the maintenance and upkeep, make sure we're providing a safe environment over there, make sure we can insure it, and make sure that all the students that we have will be able to enjoy the use of it," board President Lester Miller said.
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The county has agreed to use the money from the sale to renovate Henderson Stadium on Anthony Road. Both sports venues are primarily used by Bibb County's high schools. Minor repairs and updates have been made to the Ed DeFore complex, and the district will assess major repairs that might be needed in the future, according to the district.
The Cal Ripken Foundation and the county are each paying $750,000 to build the multipurpose sports complex behind Hartley Elementary, also located on Anthony Road. The "youth development complex" with artificial grass is designed for baseball, football, lacrosse and soccer, said Jeff Battcher, league administrator for Macon Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities. It will be the only synthetic field in Bibb County that's available for high school use.
"Too many times, facilities get built and you drive by on a Saturday and nobody is there," Battcher said. "I want this to get used as much as possible, especially by the kids in the area. This is going to be the best park anywhere in Macon."
There will be no cost to the school district for that project, which included renovation plans for the nearby Tom Fontain ballpark. Ownership of the ballpark was transferred from the county to the Board of Education in September.
Tom Fontain's two fields were completely redone, and the work was celebrated during a ribbon-cutting ceremony April 11. The improvements were made through grants from the Scotts Field Refurbishment Program and Major League Baseball and contributions from the Atlanta Braves Foundation, according to a press release.
The ballpark was among four in the country selected to receive grant funding, out of nearly 250 applications across the country, Battcher said. United Way of Central Georgia agencies and Macon Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities are among the organizations that use the venue.
Light maintenance had been performed on the ballpark, but it hadn't seen major renovations in about 30 years, Battcher said.
"(Sports) is a great avenue for a lot of kids. I'm thrilled all these complexes are getting upgrades," said Battcher, who played football at Henderson Stadium and baseball at Luther Williams Field growing up. "It's long overdue, and I'm so glad it's happening. (Sports) can change somebody's life like it changed mine."
Kids will have "access to the best," regardless of family income. Many will be within walking to take advantage of these sports venues, Battcher.
These aren't the only county venues getting facelifts. Renovations worth $2.5 million are underway at the historic Luther Williams Field, where the the Macon Bacon Coastal Plain League will start playing this summer.
The county budgeted nearly $40 million for recreation projects in its 2012 plan for special purpose local option sales tax dollars. About $43.5 million has been allotted for recreation projects in the 2018 SPLOST.
Telegraph archives were used in this report.