By: Dan Brown | Gwinnett Citizen
Published: 2017-08-15 01:40
Date Modified: 2017-08-15 06:03
The new Buford Gymnasium is part of a larger, nearly 20-acre parcel of land stretching to Peachtree Industrial Road. Construction should be completed by the end of the year.

For years, an eerie and uncommon pall of silence blanketed this one-time piece of heaven on earth nestled among a tall stand of hardwoods just above the bend of the railroad tracks running through downtown Buford.

This six-acre plus tract – part of a near 20-acre parcel that extends to Peachtree Industrial Road – was once the home ballpark for the Bona Allen Shoemakers, a textile league championship baseball team sponsored by the old Bona Allen Tannery. The Shoemakers folded in 1941 and since then, the old ballpark has been abandoned… forgotten. The tannery closed following a 1981 fire at its downtown manufacturing plant.

During summer, the sounds of nature serenaded those who dared tread through the waist-high grass and weeds, briars snagging on pants and scratching arms in search of home plate. In winter, the wind hissed a woeful whisper through the dried husks of this same unkempt grass, now dormant and brittle in the frosty morning air.

This was a place long forgotten. Even the ghosts had moved on. Not anymore.

For the past seven months, the sounds of construction have shattered the tranquil calm as the City of Buford is in the process of restoring life to the old ballpark with the construction of its new gymnasium. 

Buford City Manager Bryan Kerlin said building the new gym on the site of the old Bona Allen Shoemakers baseball field kept the spirit of sports alive.

The site of the old Bona Allen ballpark in downtown Buford had been a source of curiosity for baseball fans for nearly 80 years since the Shoemakers ceased play in 1941.The site of the old Bona Allen ballpark in downtown Buford had been a source of curiosity for baseball fans for nearly 80 years since the Shoemakers ceased play in 1941.“The site of the Bona Allen Shoemakers baseball park had been idle and abandoned since the end of World War II,” Kerlin said. “By deciding to build the fitness center on such an historic site, we kept the spirit of sports and sportsmanship alive at that location.”

For years, the old ball park butting up to the railroad tracks on Buford’s north side was a repository for discarded tires. The site was abandoned and long forgotten, except for the most die hard of baseball disciples. Caught in the shadows of the ancient light standards rising above the growth of trees encircling the ball-park site where the old grandstand once stood, thatches of weeds and grass grew wild and unkempt, about the approximate six-acre parcel.

Construction should be finished by the end of the year, according to Kerlin. 

“The old gymnasium was outdated and old,” Kerlin said. “There was no air conditioning and the heating was suspect, so it was time to build a new city gymnasium.” 

The $5.9 million community/fitness center is owned by the City of Buford and encompasses more than 35,000 square feet that is divided among meeting rooms, two full court gymnasiums, and exercise rooms. 

“This is as much a community center as it is a fitness center and gymnasium,” Kerlin said. “Included in the plan is also a new playground adjacent to the gymnasium, in right field of the old ballpark.”

Requests for Proposals (RFP) went out on a city gym playground and walking trail in May, according to Kerlin. The project consists of the construction of an outdoor activities area for the city. Included are play-ground equipment, picnic tables, wood fiber surfacing and a new concrete sidewalk, according to the RFP. 

The bids, which closed June 29, all came in over the City’s budget and were addressed in a City Commissioners’ meeting July 17. 

“We need to review how we want to proceed with the submitted bids moving forward,” Kerlin said.