After years of paperwork delays, construction crews began arriving Monday at Savannah Rapids Pavilion to begin renovations on four dilapidated structures at the adjacent park - the gatekeeper's cottage, the dance pavilion, the dining shed and the barbecue pit.
Workers have set up temporary fencing around the renovation site, which limits access to the towpath by the Augusta Canal, but Columbia County officials said access won't be completely restricted.
A stone stairway connecting the towpath and the sidewalk leading to the lower entrance of the pavilion will remain open to the public. Also, a small path at the rear of the gatekeeper's cottage will provide access.
"We're doing everything we can to ensure that the people coming out here can continue coming out here," said Columbia County Community Center Manager Sandy Boner. "Right now, a wheelchair and strollers would have difficulty because the steps will be the access to the canal. People with bikes should just be able to walk them down."
The restoration project will take six to nine months to complete and cost about $1 million, Boner said. Most of the project is being funded through a $700,000 federal Transportation Enhancement Act grant and the rest will be paid with special-purpose local-option sales tax money.
When complete, the county intends to rent out the barbecue pit, dance pavilion and dining shed for meetings, receptions and other events. The gatekeeper's cottage will become a county museum and visitor's center.
A bicyclist passes the old dance pavilion at the Savannah Rapid Pavilion which slated for renovation.
Photo by Annette M. Drowlette
Columbia County Community and Leisure Services Director Barry Smith said he wants to turn the gatekeeper's cottage into a center similar to the soon-to-be- vacated Cotton Exchange in downtown Augusta.
"With the visitor's center you have to actually obtain local visitor's center status from the state department of tourism," Smith said. "It will result in money for us, up to $10,000 a year, as a subsidy for the center so the county doesn't have to pick up the entire bill."
Boner said the current project is just the beginning of a series of construction projects to reshape Savannah Rapids.
"There is a whole master plan for this entire area. This is only one phase of it," Boner said.
A Petersburg boat dock has been constructed and two Petersburg boats are being built to provide tours of the Augusta Canal. Upcoming construction projects include a pedestrian bridge across the canal, a canoe rental facility, picnic areas and more.
"It's a huge undertaking and this is just the beginning of it," Boner said. "It'll take at least a couple of years to complete the whole thing."
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