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High costs may mean smaller ag building

May 27, 1998|By STEVEN T. DENNIS

Lakin & Moats Architects

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Ag Building

Plans for a $2.7 million complex to house the Washington County Rural Heritage Museum and several agricultural agencies could be scaled back because the building would cost the county general fund about $100,000 a year, officials said Tuesday.

Commissioner James R. Wade said the building was supposed to pay for itself through grants, donations and money saved on renting space for agricultural agencies at 1260 Maryland Ave.

"We all bought into that," Wade said.

But Public Works Director Gary Rohrer and Finance Director Debra Bastian told the commissioners that the cost of debt service and building maintenance would far exceed rental income until the bonds are paid off in 20 years.

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Estimates of the building's annual net costs, including debt service, are $91,500 more than the rent on the Maryland Avenue building.

However, the new building is more than twice as large.

What was to be a modest museum building a year ago is now being planned as a 28,000-square-foot building that would include offices relocated from Maryland Avenue and a technology center.

The new building is equal to about half the size and cost of a new elementary school.

"It seems to me that something is going to have to go," Wade said.

Commissioner R. Lee Downey said that the general fund subsidy is a concern.

"I don't know what the solution is," he said.

An advantage is that the county would own the building free of debt after 20 years, Downey said.

"It's going to be a tough decision," he said.

Commissioners Vice President John S. Shank - a big supporter of the complex - said annual increases in rents charged to agricultural agencies over the next 20 years should be factored into the cost of the building.

"You really can't build it and expect today's (rent) to pay for it," he said.

County Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook and Commissioner Ronald L. Bowers were absent Tuesday.

Snook, reached at home, said he believes the project has merit but that the commissioners should see whether it can be scaled back so that it can pay for itself.

"It's a good project but I guess it's kind of escalated out of proportion," Snook said.

Money spent on the complex from the general fund will mean less money for schools, public safety and other programs.

The commissioners need to make a decision on the project soon. The county opened construction bids for the building last week, and if the contract isn't awarded soon the building will not be ready before the lease at 1260 Maryland Ave. expires on Oct. 31.

If the project is scaled down and redesigned, the county will likely have to wait another year to build the complex.

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