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Anderson Independent-Mail (South Carolina)
BELTON - Alona Howell watched her 7-year-old daughter, Braiylin Stroud, take part in her first softball practice on Monday night.
"She is very excited," Howell said as Braiylin joined 11 other girls on her 8-and-under team on a field at Leda Poore Park.
Howell also was getting advice from some other parents, including Josh Vaughn, whose twin daughters are on the team.
"You have to give the umpires a hard time," Vaughn told Howell with a laugh.
Their daughters are among hundreds of children who participate in the city of Belton's popular recreation programs. The number of players in the youth baseball, basketball, football, soccer and softball leagues has increased by about 20 percent in the past two years, said Joey Lance, the city's recreation director.
According to Mayor Wendell Page, games at Leda Poore Park draw such large crowds that "we have to get the police out there to direct traffic."
But officials in the city are struggling to find money to upgrade the park on the north end of Belton and the old National Guard Armory on Blue Ridge Avenue.
"It is a challenge," City Administrator Alan Sims said.
Sims said he and city officials are seeking grants and considering creative financing proposals to pay for recreation improvements.
"We're trying to think outside the box," he said.
The city recently received a $100,000 grant from the Timken Foundation to help pay for a new two-story building at Leda Poore Park that would house bathrooms, concessions and an observation deck.
The Timken Company has a plant in nearby Honea Path that makes precision components and roller bearings.
The same foundation contributed $100,000 in 2013 to rebuild the park's tennis courts, which allowed Belton to retain the Palmetto Championships. The new tennis courts marked the first major improvement at Leda Poore Park since it was built in the early 1970s.
Sims said city officials are looking at borrowing money to cover the rest of the construction costs for the building at Leda Poore Park and to finish renovating and equipping the armory for use as a recreation center.
State officials donated the armory to Belton in 2013. So far the city has spent $180,000 to replace the building's roof, windows and doors.
Replacing the heating and air conditioning, upgrading the electrical system and buying recreational equipment is expected to cost another $250,000 to $300,000, Sims said.
City Councilman Jim Bright said he would support borrowing up to $500,000 for the building at Leda Poore Park and improvements at the armory.
"It is part of the quality of life," Bright said. "Those two facilities could be jewels of our community."
When completed, the armory is expected to include a basketball court, fitness and weight rooms and a community room that could be rented for events such as meetings and parties.
Besides promoting fitness and providing the city with a source of revenue, the armory could "bring a lot of pride" to Belton, Sims said.
Lance said the new building at Leda Poore Park could be finished later this year.
He said there are also plans to build an amphitheater, additional fields and more parking at Leda Poore Park. Those improvements would cost an estimated $2.5 million to $3 million.
"I'm hoping in a couple of years we could be done with it," said Lance, adding that the new fields would enable Belton to host lucrative state youth baseball championships. "It would be a drastic change for us."
Sitting in the bleachers Monday night at Leda Poore Park, Howell said said the city's recreation programs are valuable for her daughter and other children in the community.
"By being part of a team, I'm hoping she will get into less trouble as she gets older," Howell said. "Plus it gets all of her energy out."
Follow Kirk Brown on Twitter @KirkBrown_AIM
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