June 13, 2013

New City Hall is latest addition to Varnell’s ‘downtown’

Charles Oliver
charlesoliver@daltoncitizen.com

— With the recent opening of the new Varnell City Hall, Mayor Dan Peeples says the city now has an identifiable downtown.

“With this building, and the senior center and the springs and everything else that is here, there’s no doubt where downtown Varnell is,” Peeples said.

All of those are located near the intersection of Highway 201 and Highway 2.

The new City Hall is approximately 4,400 square feet and cost about $500,000 to build. It opened about a month ago. In addition to city offices and the council meeting room, the building is home to the police department and to city court.

“It’s functional. But we still have a few things we need to do before we have an official opening and open house,” Peeples said.

He said one wall of the council chambers will be turned into a “Wall of Fame” with photos of those who have contributed to the city’s growth. Officials are also waiting to install an audio-visual system in the chamber. And Peeples said the final landscaping at the site needs to be finished.

All of the work on the City Hall building was done, for free, by state prisoners.

“They really did a good job. The quality of the work was first rate, and it allowed us to stretch our dollars even further,” Peeples said.

State prisoners also did all of the work on the new senior center, which opened last fall. That project renovated the historic Varnell House, built in 1847, and added a separate wing of about 3,100 square feet, including a 32-by-40-foot multipurpose room, kitchen and storage space. That project was funded by a $500,000 federal grant.

Peeples said the senior center has already proven popular, hosting regular senior exercise classes as well as private events.

“We’ve had a lot of birthday parties, showers. I think some wedding receptions,” he said.

Peeples said Varnell residents can rent that facility for private events for $35 an hour, while senior-oriented events are free. To rent the facility, Varnell residents can call City Hall at (706) 694-8800.

The Varnell House and senior center stand next to the city’s famous springs, which have been refurbished over the years by Boy Scouts, who have cleared away weeds and built bridges and other amenities.

“They’ve really done a good job here. We can’t thank them enough,” Peeples said.

The work has turned the area into a pleasant park, and Peeples said the city hopes to build on that.

Peeples’ own family recently donated the money to build a pavilion near the springs, on the site of the modular building that served as City Hall for several years. The city’s Saturday farmers’ market moved there this summer from the city gym.

“When they were out at the gym, they are out on the hot asphalt parking lot, without any shade,” Peeples aid. “Here it’s covered and shaded, and they have picnic tables they can put everything on.”

Peeples said the city will pay off its newest garbage truck this year and with the funds that will free up officials plan to add a playground near the pavilion. He said they are also looking at adding a brick barbecue pit, more picnic tables and other amenities. Peeples said the Georgia Department of Transportation has also approved sidewalks for the area, and he hopes construction on those will start soon.

“We realize that a downtown needs shops and other businesses, and we are going to work on that. But now that we’ve got a place that people and families will be coming to, we think that will help attract more business,” he said.