By Jeff Lehr
The Joplin Globe
JOPLIN, Mo. —
Rebuilt through donations of money, materials and labor, and just barely finished, the new equipment storage shed and restrooms at Sunny Jim Park in Joplin were destroyed by fire Thursday night.
An apparent arson at that.
“This just hurts a lot of people,” said Mike Greninger, district administrator for Joplin Little League.
The Joplin Fire Department responded to an 11:40 p.m. call reporting a fire at the ballpark at 715 E. 20th St. Fire Chief Mitch Randles said heavy smoke and fire were coming from the storage and restrooms building when firefighters got there.
The fire destroyed the building of concrete block with wooden roof construction and a lawn mower and other ballpark equipment stored inside.
Randles was not willing as yet on Friday to call the fire a case of arson.
“They’re still talking with folks and doing an investigation,” the fire chief said. “It’s probably going to be a few days.”
But the Joplin Police Department was notified and opened an arson investigation, the second arson case opened in less than 24 hours.
A fire that had taken place about six hours earlier a few blocks away in the 1600 block of South Pennsylvania Avenue also remains under investigation. Neighbors put out a fire that spread from a stump to a corner of the garage of a vacant house at that address.
Police and fire officials were not acknowledging any link between the two fires. But Greninger said he’d been told that some boys were observed running from the fire and that there may have been a related incident in the area earlier in the day.
Greninger said the building destroyed by the fire was built with a portion of $75,000 in donations received for improvements at Sunny Jim Park following devastation of the ballpark by the May 22, 2011, tornado. The Relief Spark group coordinated student volunteers from Chico State University in construction of the storage shed and restrooms from March through June of this year.
Unfortunately, the garage doors had yet to be put on and the building was not secure, Greninger said. The new concession stand that remains under construction at Sunny Jim was not damaged by the fire.
Greninger said it was a shame that the many hours of work invested in bringing the ballpark back to life could be lost so quickly. The building was not insured. He said the Joplin Little League will have to rely on donations once more to erect a new equipment shed and restrooms.
Sunny Jim Park has been a site for Little League play in Joplin since 1951, he said.
“It’s touched a lot of lives in that time, and we’re not going to let it just go by the wayside,” Greninger said.
In the wake of Thursday night’s fire at Sunny Jim Park, an account has been opened at Southwest Missouri Bank for donations to the Joplin Little League Relief Fund. Mike Greninger, Little League district administrator, said he is asking everyone who may have played at the park when they were young or had a child who played there to consider donating $10 toward construction of a new equipment shed and restrooms building.