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County approves Ag Center plan

July 01, 1998|By BRENDAN KIRBY

The Washington County Commissioners on Tuesday approved a scaled-back version of a plan to build a museum and office complex at the Washington County Agricultural Education Center.

The commissioners voted 4-0 to build the 20,000-square-foot facility at the ag center. Commissioner James R. Wade was absent.

Washington County Parks Board member Ed Hess said officials reduced the size of the building by almost one-third, which cut the projected cost from $2.7 million to $1.5 million.

Public Works Director Gary Rohrer said the complex, which will be near the front of the ag center off Md. 65 north of Sharpsburg, could be completed by early next summer.

The building will house an agriculture museum, a technology center, the University of Maryland Agriculture Extension Service, and the county's weed control office.

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The extension service will move from its present location at 1260 Maryland Ave.

Under a more ambitious plan presented last month to the commissioners, other agriculture-related agencies at the Maryland Avenue location also would have moved to the complex.

The new design increases the space for the Washington County Rural Heritage Museum from 8,200 square feet to 8,400 square feet, Rohrer said.

The $650,000 for the museum will be funded privately.

The cost to the county for the rest of the project will be about $850,000. The county will pay for the project by issuing a 20-year bond.

Assuming a 5 percent interest rate, Hess said it will cost the county $65,340 a year, or about $4,125 more than rent the county is paying to house the offices at the Maryland Avenue complex.

If the county can get a better interest rate - Hess said a 4.7 percent figure was discussed last year - the difference between rent and the bond payments would be $2,500 per year.

Hess said reduced maintenance costs and an expected 6 percent rent increase over the next two years for the extension service at the Maryland Avenue office make the ag center building more attractive.

"Basically, after the first year, this will pretty much break even," he said.

The Commissioners praised the redesign and said county employees must work hard to ensure costs do not rise above the current $80 per-square-foot estimate.

"I must admit this is a lot better than we heard a few weeks ago," Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook said.

Under the plan approved Tuesday, almost a quarter of the complex will be devoted to a technology center that can be used to host conferences and will link with area colleges to provide a site for "distance learning" through video-conferencing or over the Internet.

Hess said the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension Agency has agreed to provide $50,000 worth of teleconferencing equipment for the center.

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