Agriculture arena faces setbacks in building

The Carroll County Agriculture Center's new $4.3 million arena in Westminster looks complete from the outside.

Inside, though, there is work to be done. Cables, tiles and construction material sit on the floor. Other finishing touches, including paving around the facility and electrical hookups, have to be completed.


Spring rains last year pushed back the arena's July completion date, after construction began in the fall of 2002. Now, construction of the 52,500-square- foot arena is expected to be completed by the end of next month because of additional delays from harsh winter weather and changes in work orders.

On top of that, the project's general contractor, MSG Associates of Wind Gap, Pa., has been mired in a dispute about payments with a subcontractor. That disagreement, however, has not contributed to the construction's delay, said MSG President Michael Goffredo.


In November, Merit Builders Inc. of Rocky Ridge filed a claim for a mechanic's lien for $43,460 in unpaid invoices for work completed on the project, according to the complaint filed in Carroll County Circuit Court.

David Gochenaur, president of Merit Builders, and Brian Barkley, the company's attorney, did not return numerous telephone calls.

Goffredo said yesterday that the payment in question involves a $16,000 retainer that will be paid after Merit Builders finishes work on some minor items. The subcontractor was one of two companies that erected the arena's steel frame, metal sidings and roof early in the project, he said.

"The issue of $16,000 and the contractor finishing the work, while important to the ultimate completion of the work, is not significant," Goffredo said. "Everyone in the business in the entire Mid-Atlantic region, at the end of 2002, all of 2003 and in the early months of 2004, had to deal with horrendous weather conditions."

Goffredo referred to the heavy rain in the spring after drought conditions, and to snow, sleet and freezing rain this winter.

The recent cold weather has prevented the construction crew from installing roof material that keeps ice and snow from sliding to the ground, as well as from using blacktop to pave around the arena, said Lawrence E. Meeks, president of the center's board.

"There has been a lot of inside work in the last two weeks, since the weather outside has been bad," Meeks said.

Meeks and other members of the center's board are scheduled to update the county commissioners today on the construction's progress.


As the builders were facing weather obstacles, they also contended with 40 or so changes in work orders, including tweaking the design and engineering to be more cost-effective, Goffredo said.

"They all required time to digest and react to," he said.

Once the construction is completed at the end of next month, board members say, they hope the arena on Smith Avenue will become the center for Carroll County's agricultural, recreational and educational activities.

When construction began in 2002, members of the agriculture center had been planning and raising money for the project for five years. The cost of the project is $5.5 million, including site preparation and architect fees. The money is coming from state, county and private funds.

On Tuesday, more than two dozen members of the agriculture center toured the arena, which includes air-conditioned offices, kitchens, bathrooms and showers.

Although the arena itself is not air-conditioned, Meeks pointed to a ventilation system that will pull air from outside as ceiling fans circulate it. Large windows around the arena can also be opened, Meeks said.


The facility, including the areas for holding livestock, can be heated year-round.

More than a dozen electrical beams hang from the arena's ceilings. When in use, the beams will be 8 feet above the ground, giving vendors access to electrical outlets, Meeks said.

The center has been getting numerous calls about renting the arena space, including from rodeo organizers and church groups. Since September, the board has been working with a consultant to update and review procedures on renting out the arena, Meeks said.

A home and garden show is scheduled during the last weekend of next month but is likely to be held in one of the center's other buildings, manager Barry Lippy said.

In the meantime, MSG and Merit Builders are continuing negotiations on the payment dispute.

A hearing in Carroll County Circuit Court last week was postponed to give the two companies additional time to resolve the matter. Another hearing has been scheduled for Feb. 20.