Posted on July 31, 2013
Originally published in the El Dorado News-Times on August 1, 2013.
By: Tia Lyons
During a Wednesday meeting, members of the El Dorado-Union County Recreational Complex Board got an overview of and provided input for a master plan that is being developed for the facility on Champagnolle Road.
City and county officials, managers for the complex and an audience member who is interested in serving on the board were also present as local architect Blake Dunn laid out his prospects, which included a mixed-use, family friendly facility that transcends athletics.
The conceptual design called for added fields for baseball, softball and soccer, a performance area, such as a bandstand or amphitheater, and re-sculpting the landscape to tie in the different areas of the complex more efficiently
Parking would also be expanded and more restrooms, concession stands and possibly a meeting room that could be used for other functions, such as birthday parties, added.
Calling the complex an economic engine for El Dorado and Union County, Dunn explained that his overarching goal is to make the master plan as flexible as possible to maximize the use of the facility.
El Dorado Mayor Frank Hash and Union County Judge Mike Loftin shared the view, saying that it would enhance a funding request to the El Dorado Economic Development Board, which facilitates the city?s one-cent economic development sales tax.
"When we go to the EEDB, they?re going to look for the maximum bang for the buck,? Hash said.
The concept largely focuses on the south side of the complex, where two new fields have just been built and a long-term plan calls for two more fields, all southwest of the Dumas Pavilion.
Dunn added another two fields south of the El Dorado High School baseball and softball fields, which would mean a total of 10 fields specifically for the complex.
He said the high school could also use the fields for tournaments.
Loftin said he would check on a lease option for a cellular phone tower that sits just east of the area where the new fields are being built.
Board member Cynthia Bolding asked if the tower could be moved so space for the new fields won?t be restricted.
Loftin said the lease option for the tower has either expired and not been renewed, or it will expire soon.
The items that generated the most discussion was how the planned Miracle League field fits into the concept and what size the new fields should be.
Board member Ken Blackmon and complex concessionaire John Duran are part of the long-running effort to launch a Miracle League program in El Dorado and South Arkansas.
Miracle League provides specialized athletic programs and facilities for children and young adults with disabilities.
Hash said he has spoken with David Lee, executive director of the Boys and Girls Club of El Dorado, and there is interest in building the Miracle League field at the club?s main unit on North West Avenue.
Blackmon and Duran said the hope has been that the field would be built at the complex.
For nearly two years, the Miracle League of South Arkansas has been hosting fundraisers to get the program off the ground, and Hash said that MLSA board members can meet with the BGCE representatives and possibly combine funding sources.
Hash and Loftin noted that BGCE space is already equipped for handicapped accessibility.
Complex board member John Turbeville pointed to a corner space in the southwest quadrant of the area where the new fields are being built at the complex, saying the Miracle League field could be built there and parking extended around to the area.
Others in the room expressed skepticism about Turbeville?s outlay, citing available space, access and terrain for the Miracle League participants and their families.
Dunn said the highest and best would be for the field to be more in the center of the quadrant and in closer proximity to handicapped accessible areas, such as restrooms, parking spaces, etc.
There was also a question about how often the Miracle League field would be used, and Blackmon said smaller children, tee-ballers and 7- and 8-year-old softball and baseball players, could have access to the field when it?s not in use for Miracle League events.
Turbeville expressed concern about possible damage to the field by cleats and other equipment, saying the complex would want to keep it in good shape for Miracle League players.
Blackmon said there could be requirements on the type of cleats that could be worn on the field, with metal cleats prohibited.
He also said word has been out for a while that the field will be located at the complex.
Added Duran, "It?s something we can look at, as far as economic development for the whole city, there?s an opportunity to bring that to light out there.?
Turbeville also suggested that the new fields be suited to 12-and-under players with fencing at about 200 feet.
He said the demographic would draw larger crowds and tournaments to the complex.
Dunn recommended 300-foot fields, adding that portable fencing should be used to maintain flexibility.
Turbeville said high-quality portable fencing is expensive and labor intensive.
Plus, he said the current use of the less expensive portable fencing material at the complex was one of the complaints that drove the girls? softball teams away from the facility this season.
Loftin favored the use of portable fencing, saying, "I don?t care about the cost. We?ve got to show maximum potential for the EEDB.?
He pressed Turbeville about why portable fencing would not work, and Turbeville said balls easily roll through the fencing.
"The biggest thing is to move them,? said Mark Conway, one of the assistant managers of the complex.
Hash said Dunn is on the right trail with the master plan, and he said the board can "do some refinement and work out the knots.?
In other business, Blackmon asked if a flat fee was being charged to host tournaments at the complex, and manager Tobin Fulmer said no such fee is charged.
Blackmon said he had heard that someone opted not to use the facility for a tournament because of a $150 fee.
Loftin said a fee is charged per team to help cover the costs of using the fields.
Blackmon also inquired about the cost of gate admission for complex tournaments, and Fulmer said the price is $5 for adults and $3 for children.
"I?d like to see us do away with that,? Blackmon said.
Conway said the umpires have to be paid, and Blackmon pointed to league fees, saying he had heard complaints about the $5 admission.
"For league and local people, I have a problem with that because they already pay taxes and then they have to pay to come in and watch their kid play ball,? Blackmon said.
Perry Franklin, assistant manager of the complex, said he has witnessed some people attend a practice on one field and then stay and watch a game on another field.
He said those who attend the game have to pay admission, while those who come for the practice do not.
"It?s not fair,? Franklin said.
Blackmon also encouraged Conway to look into sponsorships for new scoreboards that are needed at the complex.
Conway presented estimates for repairs that are not guaranteed because the type of scoreboards that are now at the complex are no longer manufactured.
Loftin told him to get at least two more quotes so when sponsors are sought, "We?ll know what kind of cost we?re working with.?
Hash reminded board members they need to elect a chairman, and Loftin said co-chairs can lead the board.
Blackmon stepped down as longtime chairman of the board in May.
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