Ag center gets loan of $1 million

Commissioners pledge funds to speed construction

`Need to let this happen'

Organizers hope to open building for fair next summer

Annapolis

November 07, 2001|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

The Carroll commissioners authorized a $1 million short-term loan yesterday that will allow construction to begin as soon as possible on the $4.5 million Agriculture Center in Westminster.

The 60,658-square-foot facility could be ready in time for the 4-H Fair next summer if the timetable is met, officials told the commissioners yesterday. The county has approved a public works agreement for the building and is reviewing the site plan. The project will be ready to go out to bid in the next few weeks.

The Agriculture Center Board has raised about $2.2 million and plans additional fund raising, hoping to finish the project debt free and with enough money to endow a building maintenance fund. But should its efforts fall short, the board has secured loans from the county.

"We are authorized to loan them a maximum of $2.5 million," said Steve Powell, county director of management and budget. "The $1 million they are asking for now is part of that total and will be a bridge loan at this point to start construction."

Commissioner Donald I. Dell said he wanted the project to start as soon as possible. The original building dates to 1954.

"We need to let this happen," he said. "I look at this building as the beginning of another 50 years for the ag center."

Organizers expect some of the estimated cost will be defrayed with donated services, but they have not figured those in-kind services into the final figure.

Plans call for a 150-by- 350-foot multipurpose arena with bleachers and additional spaces for a concession stand, portable animal stalls and washing areas, and a vestibule with a few offices.

Grading of the site along Smith Avenue and Ag Center Way will begin as soon as possible, with groundbreaking possible in January. Construction of the clear-span building is expected to take about four months.

"We want to pass on the rich agricultural heritage in a facility that provides the best services," said Caroline Babylon, treasurer of the ag center board. "This is a safe, efficient and effective way. We need to preserve and expand the business of agriculture, and this building offers us flexible use year round."

Franklin Feeser, a board member who has planned much of the construction, said rentals would provide revenue to help repay the loans. At least 25 days are leased as soon as the building opens, Babylon said.

Within five years, as many as 100 dates could be leased annually.

"This property will be for everybody in the county, and it's where we have to look for the next 40 years," Feeser said. "We know people are going out of this county to work. They are going outside for entertainment, too."

Many of the small-pole buildings used during the week of fair activities will be razed to make room for the new arena. With no heat, their use was limited to summer events, and for the past few years, fair organizers have been concerned about safety.

Still, some of the shed-like structures will be missed, said Jane Dell, vice chairwoman of the 4-H Fair Board. She is not related to the commissioner.

The new building will barely meet the needs of the fair next year but will be inadequate within a few years, she said.

"We need a new building, but this property does not meet our needs," she said. "If we are going to get all the animals and the public in, this will be like putting a size 9 foot into a size 7 shoe. You can do it, but it won't be comfortable."

Commissioner Dell promised to work with the fair and said it might be able to expand onto the adjoining 104-acre property, which the county plans to purchase.

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