Fulton County and the Salem Baseball and Softball Association are exploring the possibility of building a sports complex in the county over the next five years.
"This facility will be for all the residents in Fulton County," said Fulton County Judge Charles Willett from his office June 20. "The kids in this county don't have very much and this is something we need to do for them."
Willett said the complex will include four lighted baseball fields, a playground, walking trail, concession stand, skateboard ramps and a basketball court.
If everything goes according to schedule groundbreaking for the complex could take place next spring.
"The only field we have available full time for the spring and summer leagues is Preacher Roe Park," Willett said. "It doesn't meet our needs."
This year 280 children are playing summer baseball and softball in Salem.
James Coffman, director of the Salem Baseball and Softball Association, said the leagues sponsored by his association also have access to the baseball fields at Salem High School.
But that access is tenuous, he said.
"The school owns them," Coffman said. "The city of Salem has a lease on the fields, but the school has complete control over them while school is in session and we have very limited use of them during that time."
Leagues typically begin a month before school is out and Preacher Roe Park is the only park in which teams can practice or have games, Coffman said.
He said if new baseball fields were constructed, more teams would be formed, giving participants the opportunity to play more.
Estimates for the complex range from $250,000 to $500,000, Willett said.
"It sounds like a lot but it will be spread over a number of years and, if approved, your county will receive state grant money and local donations," said Sarah Sexton, planner with the White River Planning and Development District.
Sexton said her agencyy will help Fulton County apply for an outdoor recreation grant from the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism.
She said only a government entity can apply for the 50/50 match grant.
Before applying for the grant a committee, the Fulton County Recreation Committee, will have to be formed to oversee the project, and land for the complex will have to acquired, Sexton said. "It can be donated or bought," Sexton said.
Coffman said he estimates the complex will cover 15 to 20 acres.
After acquiring the land a site plan will be developed with the help of an architect, Sexton said. "You don't want to build a $250,000 ball park without an architect," she said.
Sexton said the site plan must be approved by the Department of Parks and Tourism before the grant will be considered.
To improve Fulton County's chances of getting the grant, Sexton said, the county needs to acquire grant points.
She said grant points are earned by developing a site plan that offers diverse activities year round, reaching out to the community for help, having a public hearing, providing handicap access in the plan and finding an architect.
If state money is approved, the complex will have to comply with state codes, Sexton said.
She said grant amounts vary, but Fulton County needs to apply for as much aid as they can financially match or make up through volunteer labor.
"Certified professionals such as plumbers, electricians or carpenters who volunteer their time can certainly bring costs down," Sexton said. "Any work that the county can do is helpful too."
The grant will not cover all of the expenses, but can be reapplied for each year, Sexton said.
Typically, applicants receive $50,000 a year, she said.
Willett said donations, fund-raisers and county money will be used to help fund the project.
White River Planning and Development District Inc., which helped to build baseball complexes in Ash Flat, Melbourne and Viola, will receive 5 percent of the total cost of the project for their services.
Sexton said her company has a proven track record.
"We've worked with these grant officials for years and we know what they are looking for," Sexton said. "If there is a problem we can fix it. We have had a very high success rate."
She said once the project is under way citizens will have to be patient. "This isn't anything that is going to happen overnight," Sexton said. "It will will happen in increments each year. One year you might do the earthwork and erect a couple of fences, then add another fence and some bleachers the next year and so on."
The application for the grant must be turned in by the end of August, Willett said.
By December the county will know if it will receive the grant, he said.
"I think this project is important for our kids' futures," Willett said. "Nothing is more important than that."