Renovations at Lula’s downtown depot are chugging along.
The building next to the railroad tracks in downtown Lula is getting a major makeover and will be used as a community center. While progress was slow in the beginning, the depot has now been completely gutted and will get new bricks on the outside.
City Manager Dennis Bergin said the depot has always been a popular gathering spot in town, but the renovations will allow it to host more events.
“Before we closed this, we could rent the depot every weekend. It was just one after another,” Bergin said. “It’s tough to have to shut it down and reopen it back up. The inconvenience we’re experiencing now, truth of the matter is, a year from now, people will be going, ‘Wow, this is a lot better than what we had.’”
While the space will not be ready for the annual Railroad Days festival on May 11, the goal is to be finished over the summer, Bergin said.
The depot will have a new deck, where crowds can gather to watch parades or other events. New landscaping will reflect the city’s heritage as a railroad town, Bergin said. Restrooms will be moved to the opposite end of the building, closer to the stage to accommodate for event attendees.
The City Council hopes to eventually have 12 events a year that can use the renovated space.
“The Council would like to have more community events that would probably take place over the weekend,” Bergin said. “We have Railroad Days, we have the Fall Festival, we have Christmas in the Park, all of which will utilize this space as well. But they want to add on to that.”
Railroad Days, which will be celebrating its 43rd year in May, is an annual spring festival with musicians and vendors. In past years, the depot was used for food sales, but this year, the building will still be under construction. The construction site will be cleaned up and blocked off, and the stage and surrounding area will be used as usual, Bergin said.
“In future years, we think the interior and exterior (of the depot) will play a much larger role than they ever did in the past,” Bergin said about Railroad Days.
Suggestions from residents and councilmembers at a February 2018 meeting included using the space for private parties such as weddings, reunions or baby showers, for business lunches, for exercise classes, or for public safety training.
While locals refer to the building as “the depot” because it sits near the train tracks, the space was never used as a train depot. The depot was only built in 1991, Bergin said. The Lula Area Betterment Association first built a pavilion on the property, then a complete building as the pavilion grew popular.
The betterment association donated the depot to the city in 2017.
While the city had originally hired contractor RR&B Associates, Bergin said “the contractor failed to perform.” Now, the city is working with several subcontractors.
“It was kind of in limbo there for a while. … You’re seeing progress now. For a while there, we were kind of standing still,” Bergin said.
The contractor change did not affect the overall $236,000 budget, although Bergin said the project will likely come in under budget.