4-H fair key to facility's growth; Planners scale back Ag Center expansion


The animals and 4-H'ers come first in a scaled-back version of the long-planned Carroll County Agriculture Center expansion.

The center's board hopes to bring the cost of the project closer to the $2.3 million figure it originally envisioned, said Frank Feeser, vice president of the board and chairman of the building fund.

That means the board will have to delay the kitchen, banquet facilities, showers and office expansion, Feeser said, but allow space for them to be added. The revised expansion would provide more room for 4-H animals during fairs and exhibits.

"We cannot fund the building that we really need," Feeser said. "But what we hope is that we can house all of the 4-H animals [at the county 4-H fair]."

As the Ag Center board has struggled with neighborhood concerns, growing cost estimates and the difficulty of raising money when area farmers face low prices and drought, the expansion plans have returned to the drawing board several times.

The board had planned to construct a $2.3 million building, but neighbors in Westminster's Winchester Park protested that the building would block the view from Carroll County Farm Museum property.

In a concession to residents -- a necessary one if the project was to receive more state money -- the board reworked plans so that the expansion would be placed behind existing buildings. But that plan is more expensive because of excavation and other site work. In January, the board unveiled a $3.3 million version, hoping the General Assembly would provide the additional $950,000.

Legislators have provided $700,000 in grants, and more money could become available. The center's board has raised another $1 million in cash and pledges. The county has offered to sell bonds for as much as $2.5 million in interim funding, but Feeser said the Ag Center board is reluctant to take on the debt. "We're being very conservative," he said.

Once the first stage of the expansion is built, he said, more revenue should come when operators of cattle shows, home and garden exhibits and gun shows pay rent for the space.

The Ag Center's priority is the Carroll County 4-H Fair, Feeser said, adding that construction could begin in fall and be completed in time for the July fair.

The barns, sheds and stalls at the center -- all built by volunteers -- lack space for the hogs, steers, goats and sheep that children would bring for the event. Several steers stay in a tent during the week of the fair. During heavy rain, adults and volunteers have had to hold tent ropes to keep the shelter standing.

The main feature of the revised expansion is a building 150 feet wide and 325 feet long. Architects are developing a cost estimate for the project.

The structure would be big enough to hold all the fair's animals, and it would be built so that the board could add a 150-foot-by-75-foot section for a kitchen, banquet facilities, an office and showers.

The large, open space also would be able to accommodate more shows that add revenue to the nonprofit center's operating fund. Such revenue could help fund expansions, Feeser said.

"We have to be able to crawl before we can walk, and we think we can float the project this way," Feeser said.

By building a larger center that would draw more paying tenants, such as national 4-H competitions, Feeser said, the Ag Center would serve a broad base of the county's residents and others throughout the region.

"This is not just for the agricultural community," he said. "This will help economic development in Carroll County."

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