After nearly a year of negotiating, the board of the Carroll County Agricultural Center and its Westminster neighbors have reached an agreement on a site for a $3.3 million exhibition hall.
Although the hall will be smaller and costlier than initially planned, construction will be on the site -- adjoining existing buildings on Smith Avenue -- proposed before neighbors raised objections.
"This is a good example of how two groups can work together and solve their differences and come up with something positive for the community," said Franklin E. Feeser, Ag Center board vice president. "Maybe this is a good example for other projects in the county."
The building will be 11,250 square feet smaller and cost nearly $1 million more, but it is a site that "enables the immediate neighborhood and the larger Carroll County community to unite and help contribute toward the project financially," according to a statement released jointly at the Ag Center.
"The neighborhood is very appreciative of the board's efforts," said Edmund R. Cueman, chairman of the Neighborhood Advisory Committee. "It has been a hard decision for the ag board."
The Ag Center is a cluster of barns, livestock pavilions and show rings on 13 acres. It is the site of the Carroll County 4-H/Future Farmers of America Fair, a popular summer event that has remained true to its agricultural roots. The new building will house not only the county fair, but various large-scale events such as boat and equipment shows, dog shows, and cattle shows and sales.
The state had pledged $400,000 to the exhibition hall but had withheld additional funds until an agreement was reached with neighbors.
Carroll legislators can now move on the ag board's request for $950,000, an amount the board has promised to match. Members have raised $1 million in pledges and cash and will continue fund raising.
"We still have nearly $1 million to raise, but it is doable," said David L. Greene, director of the Carroll County Cooperative Extension Service. "If the board didn't think that, they would not go for it. This agreement will help the delegation feel more comfortable in supporting the project."
Sen. Larry E. Haines, leader of the county delegation, said he expected full support for the project.
"I don't know anybody in the delegation who is opposed," Haines said. "I am definitely in favor of going ahead with proposing the legislation and getting the bill ready. With the neighborhood group and the ag board getting together, we are ready to go then."
More than a year ago, engineers rejected the first site, saying it was too small for a 37,500-square-foot building. Removal of four buildings, relocation of underground utility lines and underground rock formations would add to the construction costs.
The ag board then chose property in front of the original site and construction of a building that would have been nearly 50 feet high.
That decision spawned the Neighborhood Advisory Committee, which represents about 140 households.
"They told us they could live with the traffic, noise and distractions but not with a site out in front," said Greene. "They recommended we move it back and if so, they would support the project."
The neighborhood group is now a permanent panel that will continue to work with the ag board on such issues as parking and traffic control. The committee has pledged its support and has offered to lobby legislators for the funding.
"We can now support the project," said Ronald Schmidt, who lives across Smith Avenue from the center. "The association is basically delighted the board has chosen the original location. We have also been assured our participation in future plans will be allowed."
Excavation, installation of underground utilities and storm water management will add $800,000 to the cost. The two-story, steel-frame building has been scaled back to 26,250 square feet on slightly more than a half-acre lot.
To minimize costs, the board has shifted the site slightly downhill from the original location. About 100 feet and a large circular driveway will separate the building from existing Burns Hall. Parking will be where it has always been -- on the grassy knoll in front of the center.
Part of the new building will be underground, with an entrance to the banquet hall on the second story. Three dilapidated barns will be razed, but the existing cattle and sheep building will stay so exhibitors can use its show rings.
The ag board reviewed several options with engineers before reaching its decision -- a time-consuming and costly process, Greene said.
"Everybody feels this has been a long, hard pull and we are breathing a sigh of relief," said Greene. "We want to move ahead now and focus on fund raising and finishing plans for the building."
Plans call for a groundbreaking at the conclusion of the 4-H Fair in August and for completion before the 2000 fair.
Pub Date: 2/03/99