For the first time, the El Sereno Recreation Center is undergoing major rehabilitation that will replace the baseball diamonds and add a heated indoor swimming pool.
With over $2 million set aside by the city of Los Angeles for the project, a large portion of the park, at 4721 Klamath St., has been turned into a muddy field as workers turn over soil in preparation for the new grass, sprinkler system, lighting, bleachers and baseball and softball diamonds.
Work began about two weeks ago and will be completed by May in time for the summer sports leagues, Executive Director Richard Nieto said.
The money came from developers who, under Proposition A, must contribute a portion of the value of their development for parks in the area.
Several housing construction projects have begun in recent years in El Sereno.
Throughout the year, Nieto and his staff must seek private funding sources for equipment and programs to keep sports and recreation activities open to the area's youth and adults. The city's yearly allotment of $3,000 for equipment does not cover the $30,000 it costs to run the baseball programs, Nieto said.
"We charge a minimal fee so kids can afford it, but the fees alone don't cover it," Nieto said. "I'm really excited about (the renovations) because people have been here for many years. I get calls from people who tell me they've been playing here since they were little kids and they're wondering what's going on."
On a cloudy day last week, Alex Rodilla, 28, walked along the pool fence on a ledge overlooking the muddy field that will be restored over the next few months. He held the hand of his 2-year-old daughter, Lisette.
"It'll be cool once it's all done, but now it looks like a disaster happened here," Rodilla said. "If they do what they say they're going to do, that'll make the park better. There's a lot of people who come here, especially in the summer."
The eight-acre recreation center offers after-school and child-care programs that include folklorico and Filipino dance groups, martial arts classes, a girls drill team, tennis lessons and a variety of sports.
Nieto, who has been with the park four years, wanted the indoor heated swimming pool built to increase the number of people who use the park during winter months.
"I'm looking to see if I can get the senior citizens and the handicapped included, so they can enjoy it year-round as well," he said.
The average weekly attendance at the park during the winter is 2,000. The number swells in summer to 6,000.
Many community activists decry the lack of parks in the area, and for years have been pushing for another park to serve more people. To increase the number of recreational outlets for teen-agers, several residents started the El Sereno Youth Development Corp., which has temporary headquarters on Huntington Drive and in the past year has offered martial arts and other classes.
"That's one of our problems," Nieto said. "There's just no other facilities in this area. That's why it's so heavily used."