It has been three years since Hall County applied for a federal grant to build Butler Park in South Gainesville.
Finally, about two years after the grant was approved, hundreds of thousands of dollars will soon be available for construction to begin.
“It has been an extremely long and unusual process to get to this point,” said District 4 Commissioner Jeff Stowe.
The county received initial approval in 2019, but still had to wait for the release of funds and was unable to begin construction. Funds were delayed for several reasons along the way, including an untimely government shutdown in 2019, a change in presidential administration, and federal funding changes due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Stowe said.
The park will include a pavilion that can accommodate several hundred people, hiking trails, at least one multi-use field, a body of water and an outdoor basketball court. The county applied for the federal grant of $ 536,000 in 2018 through the National Park Service and will add $ 250,000 through SPLOST funds.
In a letter to the Council of Commissioners on August 10, Antoinette Norfleet, Georgia Department of Natural Resources Grants Manager, wrote that she had received an official notification from the National Park Service that the project was approved and qualified the waiting time of “unprecedented”.
Stowe said he expects the park to be completed within the next nine months to a year. But depending on the materials needed, the project could experience construction delays, Deputy County Administrator Mary Nix said.
“This park is Hall County’s main construction project right now,” Nix said. “We’re going to go as fast as possible, to do it as fast as possible, but fast in today’s terms is subjective.”
Despite the delays, the county was able to make some progress on the site to make it almost ready for construction once it receives funding over the next two weeks.
For example, Stowe said, there were drainage and stormwater runoff issues that they were able to correct over the past two years. The Northeast Georgia Health System donated numerous earth trucks in 2019 to help change the site’s topography. Nix said they should be ready to do civil works on the site “very soon”.
Garland Reynolds, an architect from Gainesville, designed the park pavilion, which he says will provide a public and outdoor gathering space for the surrounding community that they currently do not have. It will have a wood and stone exterior with a fireplace on one side and a toilet on the other side.
“I always try to integrate my buildings with the environment, with the community,” Reynolds said. “This community pavilion is so necessary… for education, for schools to come together, for families to come together, all kinds of things.
Reynolds advocated for the pavilion to be named after Beulah Rucker Oliver, who founded one of the first schools for African-American students in Gainesville in the early 1900s. The Beulah Rucker Museum, which is also the site of the school that she built, is not far on the Athens highway. Reynolds worked on the building’s restoration in the mid-1990s.
“His name must be noted,” Reynolds said. “I hope this pavilion bears his name. … It would be a wonderful thing.
The Hall County Council of Commissioners will approve funding for the grant at its meeting on Thursday, August 26.