County makes new ag center a priority
By Steve Herring
Published in News on December 22, 2013 1:50 AM
The committee originally formed to study the feasibility of building a $12 million Wayne County Regional Agricultural Center has expanded its scope to include the county's agriculture and agri-business community as a whole.
The group, now known as the Wayne County Agriculture Committee, held its first meeting Wednesday morning at the Wayne Center.
And one of the first orders of business was to form two subcommittees. The funding subcommittee is chaired by Greg Shackleford of Southern Bank and Trust Co. Wayne County Fair Manager Eddie Pitzer is chairman of the facility subcommittee
Wayne County Commissioner Bill Pate is overall chairman. Julian Aycock, a farmer and member of the Wayne County Planning Board, was elected by the committee as vice chairman.
Committee members reviewed the steps taken thus far and looked forward to what is next.
County Attorney Borden Parker is working on the bylaws for the committee, Pate said. But, in the meantime, he told members that the county did not need to let the project sit and wither on the vine. If the county is going to make it happen, it has got "to get on it now," he said.
"The issues of ag and agri-business go beyond the ag center itself," Pate said in an interview. "That is why we wanted to have a permanent presence in the county -- a board that is supported by the county."
After all, once the county gets through with the ag center, there will always be something to do where agriculture is concerned, Pate said.
Commissioners in October appropriated $2 million for the project. The difference, they hope, will be made up by state and federal grants and possibly private donations.
The $2 million demonstrates how serious the county is about the project, he said.
Funding request letters have been mailed to the county's state and federal legislative delegations, and, Page said, the project already has received favorable comments from both.
Committee members also will be contacting officials at N.C. State University as well as N.C. Agriculture Secretary Steve Troxler, he said.
Pate said he hopes a local bill seeking funding for the project will be introduced when the General Assembly short session begins in mid-May.
The county can probably save a lot of money by using the design-build approach, just as it did for Steele Memorial Library in Mount Olive and the Senior Center, he said.
In design/build, an architect and general contractor form a team that works under one contract with the project owner, in this case the county, providing both design and construction services.
Solutions for Local Governments has updated the plan it prepared in 2006 for an ag center.
At this point, though, the next step is selecting a site and securing a preliminary survey and architectural plans, Pate said.
Two sites have been mentioned, both located near Cherry Hospital.
One is the McFarland building across West Ash Street from the State Employees Credit Union. However, the second location, the old state-owned dairy property near the old Cherry Hospital, is the favored site.
The property is across from O'Berry Center on Old Smithfield Road and has room for expansion -- something the McFarland building property does not, Pate said.
"This thing could be an economic engine for Wayne County," he said. "It is more than just a place for people to go. It is going to be a big learning lab. You could bring people in from all over the state.
"They have (agricultural) conventions all over the state, and what better place to have them than here in Wayne County out there at the research farm? It would fill up our hotels, and it will fill up our restaurants."
The dairy area fits the ideal of where an ag center would be located, even though somewhat off the beaten path, he said.
However, even that would be offset when the southern extension of Interstate 795 is completed since what is now the intersection of Ash Street and U.S. 117 South would become an interchange, providing easier access to the area, he said.
As visualized, the ag center would be a two-story, 56,565-square-foot center. It would be the new home of the Cooperative Extension Service, Cherry Farm administration, Center for Environmental Farming Systems, Farm Service Agency, Natural Resources Conservation Services and Wayne County Soil and Water.
Most of those offices are now in the Wayne Center.
The center also would include classrooms and an auditorium that could accommodate up to 378 people in banquet-style seating or 528 people in auditorium-style seating.