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Park plans, funding cause rift
North Hall residents want their facility built, even if it means delaying another
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Park meetings

  • A public meeting about the overall park concept is set for 6-7:30 p.m. Sept. 22 at Chestatee Middle School.
  • The BMX track and skate park aspects of Cool Springs Park will be discussed at 6-7:30 p.m. Sept. 29, also at Chestatee.

It’s not often that a county builds a new park. It’s even less often that a county builds two at the same time.

But Hall County is set to take advantage of low construction costs to begin work on parks in both North and West Hall.

One, dubbed the Cool Springs park, was approved quickly and designed this year on 85 acres donated by Cool Springs LLC, developer of the Marina Bay subdivision.

The other, known as the North Hall park, has been in the county’s master plan for years but has not yet been created. The park and community center will be modeled after the East Hall facility and will include gyms and ball fields.

The county bought about 123 acres of land on Nopone Road at U.S. 129 for the park this summer for $2.6 million.

But some North Hall residents say the county isn’t moving fast enough. A community group was formed to light a fire under the Board of Commissioners to make the long-awaited project a reality.

At Thursday’s commission meeting, it was clear Commissioner Steve Gailey took their message seriously.

Gailey demanded that construction start as quickly as possible for the park in his district when Public Works Director Ken Rearden presented a timeline with an estimated completion date of 2011.

"We’re not going to reinvent the wheel," Gailey told Rearden, referring to the park’s resemblance to the East Hall facility. "That park has been in the master plan five years. What I see right here in this list, in my opinion, is purposely delayed."

Gailey proposed removing some steps, such as public participation meetings, to speed up the process.

"I don’t remember us ever doing public comment ever on the East Hall park," Gailey said.

Gailey made a motion to expedite construction of the park and halt all progress past grading the land at the Cool Springs park until the North Hall park is complete.

"Funding for your park will not come until the $12 million is sitting in the fund," Gailey said to Commissioner Billy Powell, whose district will house the future Cool Springs park near the Dawson County line.

The commission voted Thursday 4-1 to expedite the North Hall park. Powell cast the dissenting vote.

Powell argued that the $2.8 million from SPLOST V that was voted toward the Cool Springs facility comes from a different account than the SPLOST VI money that will pay for the Nopone Road facility, once it is collected.

"They’re really not in competition," Powell said. "I didn’t think it was necessary at all to do what was done (Thursday)."

Both SPLOST V and VI have funds set aside for a park in North Hall. This spring, the commission voted to create a park on the Cool Springs donated land using leftover funds from SPLOST V. Shortly afterward, commissioners approved the use of SPLOST VI funds for the North Hall park.

Powell said he thinks the recession is to blame for the fear that one park must be chosen.

The Cool Springs park is estimated to cost $4 million to $5 million, paid for by SPLOST V funds and impact fees. Plans include skateboarding facilities and a retention pond.

The park is not in the county’s master plan and was not approved by the Parks and Leisure Board.

Assistant County Administrator Phil Sutton said the vote to fast-track the park was largely symbolic; the project already had priority status.

Sutton said the construction plan presented Thursday by Rearden was realistic. The county is accepting bids for the architectural work.

"It’s moving as fast as it can possibly move," Sutton said.

He said it is advantageous for the county to do at least some of the work on both parks now when construction costs are low.

"The biggest issue is if we don’t get this out on the street now, we’re going to be paying a whole lot more," Sutton said. "We’re basically getting half price."

Sutton said the fear that any work at Cool Springs will take away from the North Hall park isn’t necessary.

"To portray that there’s some nefarious plot going on is far-fetched," he said. "It comes from two separate places."

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