The dedication of the Community Media Center of Carroll County, broadcast live to as many as 34,000 area households, showcased the best of community television.
"We are going out live, and that is exciting because of who this is for," said Marion Ware, director of the $1.7 million center built on Washington Road in Westminster.
Ware called the 8,000-square- foot building "the dream home for an idea called community television." The community access television station has televised the life of the county for nearly 14 years, sharing with residents everything from parades and concerts to public hearings and candidate forums.
About 100 people, many of them longtime volunteers, joined in the Friday ceremony that started in a soundproof studio and included tours throughout the building.
"Take time to wander," Ware said to the crowd.
The day began with thanks to the staff, video glimpses of the center's history and a prayer for its future.
The event was sprinkled with music. Audrey Cimino, executive director of the Community Foundation, sang a poignant hymn, "May Nothing Evil Cross This Door." The brass band from Westminster High School played several classic melodies. By late afternoon, Walt Michael & Company, a Westminster ensemble, was giving a rousing concert.
"Television is the perfect medium to give us a sense of history and place in the vital present," Ware said.
When Ware took over the center eight years ago, it was housed in the basement of a school. Soon after her arrival, a man asked her to run a notice about his lost dog on the ticker at the bottom of the screen.
"Here was an ordinary citizen who looked at public TV as a way to communicate with his neighbors," she said. "It gave me pause. I knew then that we had to create a facility to house a studio to share. I hope we will no longer be the best-kept secret in the county."
"This center has made me aware that there are no ordinary people," Ware said. "Everyone has a story to tell, and this center gives everyone a chance to communicate. We have much to teach and much to learn from each other."
Since the late 1990s, Ware has been lobbying to build a state-of-the-art facility. She met with county and town officials to solicit funds and brief them on her plans. The county lent the project $500,000, and much of the rest came from contributions.
Commissioner Perry L. Jones, former mayor of Union Bridge, recalled the times Ware spoke to his Town Council and all the others, asking for support.
"She spent years trying to sell this building to the public, and it is really something worthwhile," Jones said.
Built by Total Construction Services of Ellicott City, the center includes a spacious, sunlit lobby, editing and work stations, several smaller studios, staff offices and storage space for equipment. The setting is a vast improvement on the basement headquarters the public access television station has called home for the past decade. Gone is the noise of basketballs bouncing overhead, the cramped quarters and the uneven floors that made moving a TV camera nearly impossible.
In the express studio at the new center, Rebecca Harman, a former New Windsor councilwoman and community center volunteer for decades, taped a segment that will air with reruns of the ceremony. Arthritis has put a severe crimp in her step, but Harman said, "If I was still able to dance, I would get up and dance. I am so happy this center has opened."
Most of the staff calls Bob Johnson "the patriarch" in deference to his long years of volunteering. He is devoting his time now to archiving many of the programs he helped film. He recalled the hours spent lugging equipment to and from various events and the center's first location in an old bank building on Westminster's Main Street two decades ago.
Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge remembered that first studio with "lights so close to our heads we could soon feel the perspiration rolling down our faces."
The speeches Friday were brief, but many included credit for Ware.
"Her passion made this center a reality," said Ken Decker, chairman of the county's cable regulatory commission and the Hampstead town manager. "She never gave up. This building marks the beginning for a tool to be used by the people."
The three county commissioners said they would soon resume broadcasts of their public meetings on the cable channel.
"This is one more way to make sure everybody makes contact," said Commissioner Dean L. Minnich. "This center will enable further communication."
Gouge added, "I truly believe that the public will be more involved in government. Community television gives the average person the opportunity to be part of government."
The center will provide training and access to educational and nonprofit groups and to anyone who wants to learn how to develop programs, Ware said. Communications students from the county Career and Technology Center - just across the parking lot from the center - are taking classes at the station.
Two Francis Scott Key High School interns helped plan the dedication. They have worked in front of and behind the cameras.
"We are learning every aspect of television," said Jennifer Longo, a senior from Taneytown. "It is opening up a lot for us."
Her classmate, Kayla Grandinetti, said they are gaining valuable experience. "There is a lot of pressure, but it is exciting. We will finish as certified commercial producers who can use equipment and help with shoots."
And both interns said that after graduation in June, they plan to volunteer at the center for years to come.
"Given the people, the resources and this building, we will help this community be the best it can be," Ware said.