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Lula to take over closed Hall park
City will be responsible for maintenance and upkeep
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If all goes as planned, Lula could have Rafe Banks Park ready for visitors as early as Thursday, city officials said.

City officials and the Hall County Board of Commissioners created a draft of the intergovernmental agreement last week and Commissioner Scott Gibbs said it could be signed any day.

"It makes sense. It's in the Lula city limits and they own part of the property already. They know the needs on a day-to-day basis," Gibbs said.

Rafe Banks was one of four Hall County parks closed due to budget cuts. The others were Tadmore Park, Bark Camp Park and Platt Park, Gibbs said.

"The decision was made very late into their fiscal planning. It came as a surprise," Lula City Manager Dennis Bergin said. "We have quite an interest in that property and we think it serves the county well."

The 22-acre park has baseball fields, basketball courts, concession stands and walking trails, among other amenities. They all need some sort of surface-level maintenance once the Lula Mayor Milton Turner signs the lease, which is in effect for 25 years.

"It's well used," Bergin said. "We're working with East Hall's booster club with regard to the baseball fields. ... We have teams that use these as far away as Oakwood."

Residents lamented the loss of the park's walking trails. The trails, along with the rest of the park, have been blocked off since the commission voted to close the park about a month and a half ago.

Bergin said city officials began working to reopen the park almost as soon as it closed, and he wishes the process had not taken so long.

Once Lula has ownership, the city is responsible for maintaining services, aesthetics, upkeep and every other cost associated with the park.

"The county gets to sit back and watch," Bergin said.

From the commission's standpoint, Rafe Banks Park is important to the northern part of Hall County, said Mike Little, acting director for Hall County Parks & Leisure Services.

"It's a positive between Hall County and Lula," Little said. "With our reductions in staff and then trying to reorganize the department, it's a big help to us."

At this point, Bergin said the city has no plans to rent facilities at Rafe Banks Park to groups or other organizations because of the community interest in the park.

Gibbs said the commission "might make $25 for 25 years" on leasing the park out. He believes the city will do a good job running the park.

It could cost the city up to $30,000 to keep the park operating, but Bergin said officials are up to the challenge.

"The only challenge is we wish we'd gotten it earlier so we would have been able to budget for it," Bergin said. "But we'll work through it and it'll be OK."

 

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