New Ag Center building's cost rises after location is changed; Board hopes neighbors like site behind complex


The Carroll County Ag Center Board is asking the legislature for three times as much money as last year, to cover the $1 million in additional costs for satisfying neighborhood concerns about a proposed new arena.

The board is seeking $950,000 from the state, instead of the $300,000 it requested last year. The overall price tag will be $3.3 million.

Despite the increase from the earlier projected cost of $2.2 million, the building will be smaller than originally planned.

The additional expenses will be incurred because of the need to excavate and prepare a more difficult site behind the current buildings.

"We're getting less building for a lot more money," said Frank Feeser, a Taneytown farmer and board vice president.

But the board hopes to get more neighborhood support, said Lawrence Meeks, president of the board. The Neighborhood Advisory Committee, formed last spring when residents objected to putting the building where it might break up the scenic view, is now a permanent panel that will continue to advise the Ag Center board.

Ronald Schmidt, who lives at Greenvale Road and Smith Avenue, across from the Ag Center, said he hasn't seen the plan yet.

"We still have concerns, but I don't want to make an official statement until we see the details," he said. Schmidt said the placement of the building sounds better, but he and other residents are still concerned about parking, the increased use of the site by commercial shows and a higher volume of traffic.

"Nobody has a problem with 4-H," Schmidt said, but they are wary of the other activities that could book the new arena.

"Now that the decision has been made on the siting, it will take a big part of the apprehension away," said C. Edmund Cueman, who is chairman of the Neighborhood Advisory Committee at the request of the Ag Center board.

Cueman, whose children were active in 4-H and who is a lifetime member of the Ag Center, does not live in the neighborhood, but serves as a liaison between the committee and board.

With this new plan, the board is asking the county's delegation to support a bond bill for $950,000 toward the cost of the arena, to be built starting this fall behind the current complex. The board has received a $400,000 grant from the state and has raised $1 million in pledges and cash.

"They'll have to justify the request for that much," said Carroll County state Sen. Larry Haines, a Republican. He said that if the board has satisfied the neighbors and can provide him with more detail on the extra cost, he will take the request to the Carroll delegation on Tuesday, and the members will decide whether to submit it for approval by the legislature.

A bill that would have given the Ag Center $300,000 last year was withdrawn at the last minute by the delegate who introduced it for the board to address neighbors' concerns.

Meeks said the estimated cost is now $3.3 million because the new location will require excavating a rockier site, removing power and water lines, cutting down several trees and demolishing older buildings between the main building and a livestock building called the Shiloh building.

"It does not meet the needs of the Ag Center," Meeks said. Even the larger building originally planned would not have been adequate, he said, but the current plan is the beginning of a long-range expansion. Additional space can be added in the future, he said.

One way to pay for more space, Feeser said, could be through booking livestock shows, hobby shows and other exhibitors.

Agricultural events and 4-H activities will get priority, Ag Center officials said.

Meeks said the current plan will require more disruption of activities in the barns and pens that will have to be taken down for the new arena. The board is hoping the construction can take place after the 1999 county fair and be completed in time for the 2000 fair.

The Ag Center complex sits on 13 acres the board owns adjacent to the Carroll County Farm Museum. Another 5 acres is leased from the county for a nominal fee. Most of the buildings were built starting in 1954, with volunteer labor and donated materials.

Feeser, for example, helped build the Shiloh building in the 1970s.

He said the needs of the 4-H clubs long ago outgrew the complex. In Carroll County, 1,212 youths are in 4-H, and 67 percent of them participate in the Carroll County 4-H Fair, the main event at the Ag Center.

"The buildings are not modern, and they're too small," Meeks said. Some animals have to be housed outdoors, and others have to arrive and go home on the same day.

David L. Greene, director of the Maryland Cooperative Extension, which has its offices at the Ag Center and coordinates 4-H clubs, said the clubs use the center for much more than the fair, with at least 24 other events during the year.

"The fair gets the biggest focus because it's a whole week," he said. "In reality there are many other activities just for 4-H."

Pub Date: 1/29/99

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