The historic Donaldson-Bannister Farm at 4831 Chamblee-Dunwoody Road is nearly ready for public use after years of work, as the City Council recently approved funding for finishing touches.

The council voted July 10 to award a contract not to exceed $558,000 for site improvements at the Donaldson-Bannister Farm to include handicapped parking and Americans with Disabilities Act regulated accessibility to the house and restrooms, paving the way to the city-owned park opening sometime this summer to the public.

The Donaldson-Bannister Farm in Dunwoody. (Dawn DeLucia via Creative Commons)

Parks and Recreation Director Brent Walker told the mayor and council that the contract, to P.E. Structures and Associates LLC, will be used to apply the final touches needed that will then allow for the property and farm house to be opened to the public for events.

The grounds at the Donaldson-Bannister Farm are open now, said city spokesperson Bob Mullen, and the city just recently finished putting in a new gravel parking lot located off of the Vermack Road entrance.

“The house should be open by November. Additionally, the city will be closing some areas of the grounds for site improvements to include new ADA ramps, sidewalks and landscaping. The current plan estimate is for that work is to begin sometime in August and to be done by November,” Mullen said.

The Dunwoody Preservation Trust, the nonprofit organization that works with the city to manage the Donaldson-Bannister Farm, is putting $228,000 toward the final touches to the farm while the city will be paying $300,000 through the city’s Facilities Improvement Partnership Program, Walker said.

Councilmember Terry Nall noted the $558,000 contract is higher than the amount of money approved for the project when the council awarded its FIPP grants in April.

“When we had the FIPP process, we allocated $528,000 – but the project after deductions came in the cost is $30,000 higher. So they are seeking additional city money,” Nall said.

Walker explained the Dunwoody Preservation Trust is going to donate volunteers to the project which will help cover costs. While volunteer hours do not give the city cash in hand, he said, the donated time will help save overall expenses.

“We approved [Donaldson-Bannister Farm funding] in the FIPP process, so we believe in it. My challenge is that during the FIPP process, we underfunded the Dunwoody Nature Center by $100,000 … and for this we’ve found another $30,000,” Nall said.

In its FIPP grants, the city awarded the Dunwoody Nature Center a $200,000 grant instead of the $300,500 it requested to cover costs to build a new pavilion.

“It sounds like we have left over capital project funds,” Nall added. “We’re jumping this one ahead when we stripped $100,000 from the Nature Center. But this helps get the padlock off the gate.”

Walker said the money spent on the Donaldson-Bannister Farm provides a “bigger community benefit” because it will go toward opening a new park in the city. The farm and property will then be able to be used as event space and passive space, he said.

The extra $30,000 includes $10,000 coming from trail design money that has not been used, Walker explained.

Councilmember Doug Thompson disagreed with the city taking trail design money to be used toward the Donaldson-Bannister Farm.

“I’ve got a problem with taking money out of trail design,” he said. “I’m out on this.”

Walker said there was still money in the city budget for trail design.

“That money needs to be used for trails. It’s very important to have a complete trail system,” Thompson said.

The vote was 6-1 to award the contract, with Thompson casting the lone no vote.