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Newtown’s Desota Park to reopen, Athens Street park making progress
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Final touches are made to Desota Park in Gainesville, Wednesday, June 27, 2018, before reopening to the public. - photo by David Barnes

Gainesville is putting the finishing touches on the makeover of Desota Park just as Hall County officials begin to make progress on a separate park adjacent to the local health department.

The two parks on the south side of the city primarily serve minority, as well as many low-income, families.

Desota Park is the centerpiece of Newtown, a historically African-American neighborhood in Gainesville, playing host to birthday parties, family reunions and holiday celebrations, for example.

Gainesville parks and recreation board member Jerry Castleberry said earlier this spring that the park is a “focal point for Fourth of July celebrations.”

And Bright Teens United for a Future, a youth leadership group, is sponsoring summer recreation programs at the park for the Newtown Florist Club, a local civil rights organization.

These programs include basketball tournaments, movie nights, dance classes, arts and crafts, and reading, bicycle and gardening clubs.

City officials approved about $350,000 to tear up and rebuild the park’s basketball and tennis courts, while adding new playground features, exercise equipment, and additional space for public gatherings and cookouts.

Parks Director Melvin Cooper said a few “punch-out” items remain to be finished, such as paint touch-ups, but the bulk of the work is complete.

He said the park would be open to the public beginning this weekend.

“I think it’s a fantastic park,” Cooper added.

Meanwhile, a proposed park at 1280 Athens St., just south of Interstate 985 where the county health department and old Butler gym sit, is making headway after Hall County government officials sought public input in the spring.

Survey results shared with The Times show that residents want the park well-lit and secure, regularly maintained, with electrical outlets, water, restrooms and other amenities for hosting public gatherings.

A playground, pavilion, basketball court, walking trails and fitness equipment were among the leading features residents chose for the park.

Additionally, “E.E. Butler Park” was the leading vote getter for the park’s name among the approximately 60 surveys filled out.

Fieldale Farms is providing adjacent land to the currently undeveloped property behind the health department.

Commissioner Jeff Stowe said preliminary work to control erosion, remove privet and kudzu, and improve drainage has been completed or is underway.

The county is applying for an approximately $350,000 grant from the state Department of Natural Resources to match what the local government is investing in the project.

The grant is specifically aimed at serving low-to-moderate income neighborhoods, and Stowe said he is hopeful, if not confident, that the county will be awarded the funding.

However, the grant funding would require some delays in the construction timeline.

Stowe said officials had hoped to break ground and begin developing some of the park’s features by November.

But if awarded the grant, that funding would not be allocated until next spring.