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Ag center plan may be revamped

June 10, 1998|By STEVEN T. DENNIS

The fate of a $2.7 million farm museum and office complex planned for the Washington County Agricultural Education Center remained undecided Tuesday.

The Washington County Commissioners, concerned about the cost of the offices, asked the Parks and Recreation and the ag center boards to hold an emergency meeting to reconsider the design of the building and make recommendations.

Offices, expected to house agricultural agencies now at 1260 Maryland Ave., make up about two-thirds of the planned 28,000-square-foot building. The Washington County Rural Heritage Museum makes up the other third.

"We were told that the office complex would pay for itself," said County Commissioner Ronald L. Bowers. "Suddenly it's grown totally out of hand. I think it's got to be brought under control."

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County Finance Director Debra Bastian presented a worksheet Tuesday that showed the building would cost the county general fund $90,000 more per year than it pays in rent and expenses at the Maryland Avenue building.

The additional costs included $55,000 in office costs and $35,000 for the museum.

"The museum is not causing the problem of the costs going sky high," Commissioner John S. Shank said.

Bowers said that nobody opposes the museum.

"I think the museum could stand on its own and we could do it," he said.

The museum portion of the building is supported by up to $350,000 from a Program Open Space grant from the state and up to $350,000 in matching donations. Bastian said $219,000 in matching donations has been collected.

Shank said the county should have made sure a long time ago that the agencies at 1260 Maryland Ave. would agree to move to the new office building.

No leases have been signed and no agreements reached for paying tenants at the proposed office complex.

"Before we go committing to construction I think we need to take a second look at it," said Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook.

The lease at 1260 Maryland Ave. runs out on Oct. 31, but the county has the option for up to two one-year extensions at the current rate.

County Public Works Director Gary Rohrer said he could work to scale back the project to include only the museum.

John Staub, president of the ag center board, said that board is "completely happy" with the design of the museum but has not been involved in the office portion of the project.

The agencies that the county hopes will use the new building include the Washington County Cooperative Extension Service, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Farm Service Agency and Rural Development, the National Resource Conservation Service, the Washington County Soil Conservation District, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources' Forestry Service and the private Farm Credit.

The University of Maryland could use the 1,900-square-foot technology center to hold for-credit college classes.

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