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Saturday, November 8th, 2014

Changes planned for $4M county expo center

Proposed project scaled back, location moved slightly at fairgrounds

By Shelley Grieshop

Local officials review a preliminary drawing of an estimated $4 million proposed. . .

CELINA - A proposed $4 million expo center at the Mercer County Fairgrounds will be smaller and much closer to the center of activity than officials initially planned.
The Progressive Agriculture Convention and Education center may include an educational/research wing for Wright State University-Lake Campus students studying agriculture and related fields. It also may be the future home of the Aladdin Academy - an alternative school currently renting space in the Celina Education Complex and The Galleria in Celina.
Construction won't begin until 80 percent of the funding is received, fair officials said. Funding is mainly through donations. To date, the fair board has received $1.5 million from the state and $1 million in direct or in-kind donations.
Moving the PACE building to the site of the present horse arena from the formerly planned area northwest of the fairgrounds allows officials to utilize existing livestock stalls instead of building more, fairgrounds manager Cara Muhlenkamp said.
"We won't need the stall space," she said. "It'll be close enough to existing ones and still have room for an arena, classes, offices and other areas."
The site change will decrease costs about $2 million, Muhlenkamp said. The former land had costly drainage issues, she said.
The initially proposed area also would have involved a more costly extension of utilities, she noted. But perhaps the biggest reason for the change was to locate the building closer to the center of the fairgrounds, Muhlenkamp said.
"The Mercer County Fair Board felt that it was important to keep the PACE center located in close proximity to other buildings," she said. "By doing this it will be easier to utilize the buildings for various events and help us to market the facility."
The new plans call for a 180-feet-by-360-feet rectangular building - about 40,000 less square footage than initially designed. The arena will fill the majority of the facility, officials said.
Greg Homan, an agriculture professor at WSU-LC, said Mercer and Darke counties are two of the top 100 counties in the U.S. for ag receipts. However, the closest agriculture research/educational facilities are in London, Wooster and Columbus.
"We hope the PACE center will help provide additional tailored focus on agricultural needs closer to our region," he said.
Homan believes the planned facility will offer many opportunities for local residents.
"The PACE center is more than a facility, it is a foundation effort to bring agencies and outreach efforts to a highly productive and important agricultural region to position our region for continued success in agriculture," he said.
Andy Smith, superintendent of the Mercer County Educational Center, which oversees the Aladdin Academy, said a final decision on whether to move the alternative school to the PACE center has not been made by the board.
"We're currently putting a building committee together," he said on Friday.
Smith said he likes the idea of partnering with the fair board and WSU-LC.
"They could help provide our students something we can't," he added.
Dave Lamb, principal of the academy, said many of his students have difficulty learning in traditional settings. The idea of more hands-on learning could boost student success, and the partnership with the university could promote further education and careers, he said.
"This could be an opportunity for us to grow," Lamb said.
The school currently has about 50 students and a waiting list of others interested in enrolling, he explained.
Muhlenkamp said she's excited about the possible addition of the academy at the fairgrounds.
"The committee feels like the Aladdin Academy would be a valuable asset to the vision of the project," she said. "With the help of Wright State's agriculture program we can encourage the students to continue their education and be a valuable part of the local workforce."
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