Update: Nov. 1: U.S. Rep. Doug Collins has sent a letter to David Vela, deputy director of the National Park Service, asking him to consider Hall County’s request to spend its own dollars on Butler Park.
“Funds for this park would support community engagement while providing a higher standard of living through recreational activities, which the surrounding area is currently deprived of,” Collins said in the letter dated Nov. 1.
Original story: Work on Butler Park in south Gainesville has been delayed while Hall County waits to hear whether it has received a federal grant, but county officials hope to get an exception to grant application rules so work on the park can begin sooner.
The park would be built at 1280 Athens St., near the Hall County Health Department. The county government has applied for about $536,000 in federal grant funding to match $250,000 in special purpose local option sales tax revenue the county has set aside for the park.
The 14-acre park would have a playground, pavilion, basketball court, walking trails, exercise stations, a water-play feature, picnic area, parking and restrooms.
While some grading has been done on the property, work has been on hold as the county waits to hear whether it has received the federal grant. One condition of the grant application is that the county needs to wait on the grant before spending the money it has set aside.
Commissioner Jeff Stowe, whose district includes the park property, asked Thursday if the county could seek permission to start work at the park before it hears about the grant award, which has been delayed.
The county has been given several dates since March when it was supposed to get an answer, Stowe said, but he said he thinks the south Gainesville community has waited long enough for its own park.
“It’s an area that a lot of residents live at, where they can walk and enjoy that park. Now, it’s multiple miles (to a park). It’s the right thing,” Stowe said. “That community has been overlooked for a long, long time. There’s been multiple promises for parks in the past, and we’ve been working on this for quite a while.”
Hall officials submitted the grant application in July 2018 to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. In September 2018, the Georgia DNR selected two applications to send on to the federal level, the Butler Park grant application and another from the city of Roswell. The National Park Service now has to make a decision. The park service was not able to comment by deadline Friday.
Stowe said the $250,000 the county has approved for the project could pay for some basic facilities at the park.
“We surveyed the citizens back when we did the grant application, and said ‘as we get money, what are the first things you’d like to see?’ The top of that list was the pavilion and the playground,” Stowe said. “That ought to be the money we have, and we ought to be able to come real close to finishing those two.”
The other park features would rely on other funding.
Stowe asked county staff to send a letter to the National Park Service, U.S. Rep. Doug Collins of Gainesville, U.S. Sen. David Perdue, U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson and Gov. Brian Kemp asking permission for the county to start work at the park. He said hopefully, construction could begin by Jan. 15, 2020.
A Collins spokesperson said Collins’ office had been in touch with the park service.
“Congressman Collins has expressed his full support for Hall County’s grant application, and has asked the National Park Service to keep our office informed on the progress of their decision,” according to a statement. “Our office will continue to urge the National Park Service to make a swift decision as we understand the county is eager to begin construction on Butler Park.”
The Hall County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved Stowe’s proposal to send the letter.