Saturday, February 16th, 2013

WSU to partner on expo center

Campus wants to use facility at fairgrounds to train and educate ag students

By Shelley Grieshop

The Mercer County Fair Board hopes to build a $500,000 expo center north of the. . .

CELINA - Plans for an expo center at the fairgrounds are growing and include a partnership with the local university.
Mercer County Fairgrounds Manager Cara Muhlenkamp said Wright State University-Lake Campus' agricultural program hopes to utilize the building as a training and educational center.
"Their program out there is just growing and growing," she said.
The center would provide classroom space for career and technical training and applied/hands-on learning for current and future employees in the ag industry, she said.
Greg Homan, associate professor of agriculture at the branch campus, welcomes the new alliance with the fairgrounds.
"I'm really excited about the project," he said.
The university along state Route 703 has offered an agriculture program for about five years and desperately needs to expand to include more hands-on education, he explained.
"The labs we have are just not conducive," Homan said. "The new facility offers a lot of potential."
He admits there could be a downside mainly due to distance; the fairgrounds is several miles from the campus.
"We'll have to weigh out the challenges. There could be timing issues going back and forth," he said.
Overall, he believes it shows frugality to share the resource.
"We try to utilize our money wisely ... it doesn't make sense to ask some of the same supporters to build two facilities," Homan said.
The fair board in November announced plans to build a $500,000 facility north of the two cattle buildings and east of the horse arena. A nearby 4-H pony barn will be razed to make room.
The building was proposed as 100-by 300-foot, but Muhlenkamp believes the cost and size of the facility likely will increase to accommodate the university's needs.
A proposed sketch of the building should be completed in a few weeks; construction is expected to be completed by May 2014.
The funding process also is a work in progress, Muhlenkamp said.
"We've already had donors express a lot of interest and some have committed," she said, adding all wish to remain anonymous.
The fair board hopes donations will be adequate to avoid the need for a loan, Muhlenkamp added.
Board members also hope the expo center will be used by the broader western Ohio area for regional and state livestock exhibitions, trade shows, conferences and other events.
"The facility has the potential to serve as an area attraction, securing significant tourism and travel investment in our local community," Muhlenkamp said. "The committee working on this project realizes that a building of the proposed size will not be able to sustain itself if relying on just weekend events."
Officials also are looking into the possibility of using the facility to provide equine therapy - a treatment program that uses horses to help adults and youths with issues such as autism and physical therapy.
Early plans for the indoor facility included horse riding, local livestock shows and other community events. The expo planning committee continues to explore long-range programming and design options, Muhlenkamp said.
   "We're really looking at the long-term ... ideas that back growth and development in the area," she said.
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