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Gainesville City Council pulls funding for park's field house
Shortage of private donations pushes money to Midtown greenway
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The City Park field house used by Gainesville High teams is aging and too small for the school’s football team to use.

A spanking-new — or even adequate — field house at Gainesville’s City Park Stadium will have to wait for now.

The Gainesville City Council decided Tuesday to use most of the money it had put away to replace the 38-year-old field house to further the ambition of a planned greenway in Midtown.

Voting unanimously to transfer the money to the Midtown cause, which is slated for construction in July, city officials cited lackluster participation from funding partners on the new facility.

City Manager Kip Padgett said city officials still plan to do their part in the future, and hope to stir some excitement from private donors this fall by using a little of the money to install a plaque at the field in honor of P.K. Dixon — Gainesville High School’s longtime team doctor for whom the new field house would be named.

About $53,000 of the money has already been spent on surveying for the project.

City officials will also put up renderings of the planned field house “to hopefully get some energy into the private donation drive,” Padgett said.

In 2007, city officials, together with school officials and Dixon’s family, each pledged to pitch in on the costs of a new field house with the hopes that others would, too, said Gainesville’s Parks and Recreation director, Melvin Cooper.

The original plan was for both Gainesville and the city’s school system to each spend $350,000 on the 7,000-square-foot field house.

The proposed facility would include changing and dressing rooms, a concession stand and public restroom facilities. It would be more than twice the size of the current structure.

With the total project cost at about $1.15 million, city and school officials were hoping for private investment — most of which hasn’t yet happened.

“It was the intention to raise about $253,000 or so from private funds from the community,” Cooper said. “... Not long after we did that was when the economy tanked.”

Private donations were slow to come, and in 2008, the city school system discovered a sizeable budget deficit and could no longer commit to the funding at the time, Cooper said.

“It’s been three years now, and the economy’s, of course, still not turned around,” he said.

City officials said they will revisit the project again when the economy recovers and their funding partners are ready to cooperate.
But for now, the leftover money can be used for a greenway in Midtown.

Plans call for the trail to start behind the current home of the American Red Cross at Mule Camp Springs and end somewhere near Lee Gilmer Memorial Airport.

City officials planned to begin construction on the greenway on July 1. The plan is to install everything inch by inch: paved trails, benches, signs and landscaping.

With the money they had in-hand before Tuesday, Community Development Director Rusty Ligon said about 840 feet of the trail could have been built this year.

But with $290,000 more from the field house fund, Ligon said this year’s leg of the project may get an extension.

“This will definitely help us to get further south on the project,” he said.

And though the city’s passive recreational facilities will get a boost from the decision, the decades-old field house is still left with no future plans for replacement.

The current structure was built in 1972, and Cooper said it does not adequately house either the home team or the visiting team at games.

The field house was built when football teams had much fewer players. And to accommodate for the growth the high school’s athletic club has moved a single-wide trailer for visiting teams to dress in in the stadium’s parking lot. Next to it are portable toilets also meant for the visiting team, Cooper said.

Gainesville High only uses the inside for restrooms, Cooper said.

“It’s pretty atrocious,” Cooper said.

The inadequacies of the current field house were especially obvious during last year’s state playoff games, said Gainesville High Head Football Coach Bruce Miller.

While Miller said he understood the council’s decision to use the money, he said the field house is outdated and in need of replacement.

“Do we need a new field house at City Park? Yes, we do,” said Miller. “That’s probably the only negative thing about City Park is the dressing facilities — they’re antique.”

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