Chatham County to break ground on new agriculture center on Thursday

sgilman@newsobserver.comMay 7, 2014 

— Chatham County will break ground Thursday on a new building near Central Carolina Community College that will allow it to move its agricultural agents out of a cramped county building in downtown Pittsboro.

The land for the Chatham County Agriculture and Conference Center is now a wooded lot on U.S. 64 Business west of Pittsboro. About 25 acres of the 100-acre county lot will go toward the center, and the rest may be used for future college expansion, said Sam Groce, director of N.C. Cooperative Extension of Chatham County.

The new building, costing the county $11.5 million, will be 32,500 square feet with about 6,000 square feet of exhibit space, a stage and an auditorium that can seat up to 800 people, and several smaller meeting rooms.

There will be office space for members of the N.C. Cooperative Extension of Chatham County, the Chatham County Farm Service Agency, Soil and Water Conservation District and Natural Resources Conservation Service. The forestry service, which now meets in a garage, will have office space to store records and meet with clients.

“It will be a complete stop for all our clientele coming in to see the agriculture agencies, because all the agencies will be under one roof,” Groce said.

Farming remains an important part of life Chatham County. Despite growing development in the northeast corner of the county, about one-fifth of Chatham territory remains in farmland. In 2012, the county had 111,778 acres in farming, up from 104,171 in 2007.

The county’s agriculture agents now work out of a three-story building that has no elevator. It was built in 1956.

“This building is falling apart,” said Debbie Roos, an agent with the county’s cooperative extension. “It has asbestos; it has a cracked foundation, everything.”

In addition, Groce said, it’s hard to find parking in downtown Pittsboro, especially when 4-H students load up on charter buses.

The new building will make holding seminars and meetings easier, too.

Only 103 people can meet in the agriculture building on East Chatham Street, Groce said, and when that many people are in there, “you can hardly move.” The new building will have the county’s largest meeting hall, and Groce said he has already had outsiders request reservations for meeting space.

Roos, who works with the burgeoning organic farming scene, said she can’t wait for the new center to open. Chatham has become a hub of small-time organic farming, and her workshops usually draw about 100 farmers from more than 20 counties.

“My workshops are so popular and so big, I have to do them out in Silk Hope, because our auditorium is not big enough,” she said.

Site development should be completed by October or November, and the building should be ready by late 2015 or early 2016, Groce said.

Gilman: 919-829-8955

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