Funds for Ag Center unsure

Expansion on hold

county considers loan of up to $2.5 million

Project has $1.5 million

July 25, 1999|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,SUN STAFF

The clock is ticking, the potential groundbreaking is just weeks away and the 4-H fair is just days away, but the Carroll County Agriculture Center expansion plans are still in limbo.

The Ag Center board plans to start work on the $3.4 million expansion after this year's fair ends Aug. 7, and finish in time for the 2000 fair.

But plans are on hold while they secure an interim loan from the county until more private and state money is raised.

Will the expansion be able to break ground soon enough to hold a 4-H/FFA Fair in July 2000?

"It's still possible that things will begin to happen immediately after the [1999] fair," said Lawrence Meeks, president of the Ag Center board. "I can break the ground -- with a pick."

The Ag Center's livestock area is a patchwork of barns, lean-to sheds and tents that go up at fair time.

Built by volunteers in the 1950s and expanded as needed, the buildings are to be leveled to make way for new structures that are slightly larger but more modern and secure.

The project already has about $1.5 million in state grants and matching donations.

Members hope to meet this week with the county commissioners about accepting a loan of up to $2.5 million until more private and state money is raised.

Before the loan is signed and sealed, county budget officials and the commissioners want to know more about how the Ag Center might raise revenue for repayment by renting out the expanded center for shows.

"We're asking for more information on how they plan to amortize those loans," said Commissioner Donald I. Dell, who is the liaison to the Ag Center Board. "They need, for themselves, to know what's going on and have some kind of plan."

No bids are out

The board has yet to put out any bids on the work, and won't until it is secure in financing arrangements, Meeks said. The first stage of any work will be demolition and excavation.

But no one wants to tear down anything if the new digs won't be ready in time for the next fair.

"That's the $94 question," Meeks said. "That's what scares people."

In the meantime, fair volunteers are preparing for another year of limited space, although even the expansion may not provide as much space as they need. The board will build in stages as it secures more funding, members have said.

Center gets small fixes

The goat barn got some new gutters and bracing to correct a lean. Dozens of volunteers are expected to help with painting, raking, cleaning out barns and stalls and other minor repairs that are typical this time of year, said Peggy Soper, who manages the center.

For at least this year, 4-H youth will again be limited to showing only a handful of animals -- each species and class has a limit. For example, no child can show more than three steers total, but even that gets crowded.

The barn isn't big enough, so several of the 118 beef steers will have to be housed in an open-sided tent again.

"It's not the most secure place for them to be," said Jennifer Reynolds, 4-H program assistant at the Maryland Cooperative Extension.

"If it's windy or stormy, it can pull up."

In past years, during a storm, 4-H volunteers have actually stood holding down the wood tent poles to keep the structure standing, recalled Mary Ellen Albaugh, 4-H secretary.

"We do anything to make it work for the kids," Albaugh said.

Difficult to plan

One reason for the expansion is to be able to accommodate more shows, Meeks has said, and they do have some potential vendors who are interested.

"We have some of that in hand, but how are you going to rent it if it isn't there?" he said.

Whatever decisions are not made this week, Meeks said, will be shoved to the back burner until the fair ends Aug. 7. After that, he said, anything is possible.

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