By Tim Cox
Mercer County's 4-H campground located near Harbor Point on the shores of Grand Lake needs tens of thousands of dollars in improvements, but county officials are in a quandary about how to deal with the issue.
County commissioners said they are uncertain how much money they can justify spending for a facility that is used for only a couple of weeks each year. County maintenance workers could do some minor work at the complex, but officials don't want to waste those efforts if they aren't going to make a long-term commitment to make more extensive repairs.
The campground's dining hall needs a new roof and foundation work. There also are handicapped accessibility issues along with repairs such as new windows and doors that are needed. Some electric upgrades also are necessary. Furthermore, if any updates are made to the kitchen area, it would have to be brought up to modern building codes, which means a new dishwasher, fire suppression system, exhaust hoods and flooring.
Commissioners discussed the 4-H facility Thursday with county 4-H Director Barb Phares, OSU Extension Agent Todd Mangen and county maintenance supervisor Myron Hartings.
Hartings said estimates for roof and foundation work sought a couple of years ago topped $75,000. "Everything it needs is a fairly major expense," Hartings said.
Some of the oldest buildings at the campground date to the early part of the century and the 13.5-acre site includes a sizable area of protected wetlands. The facility briefly served as an interment camp for German prisoners of war during World War II.
Some of the necessary repairs are safety issues, Hartings and Mangen said.
Phares suggested the 4-H and county officials come up with a marketing plan to convince more people to rent it for reunions or other get-togethers. Campsites also could be added to generate some rental income, officials said.
"A lot of people don't know it exists," she said.
Commissioner Jim Zehringer suggested that 4-H leaders organize some sort of fundraising effort to help pay for improvements. He questioned whether officials should aggressively market the rental of the campground until improvements are made.
The 4-H club has thousands of youth who spent time in the club through the years. Many of them might support a fundraising effort, Zehringer said.
Commissioner Bob Nuding questioned whether the county and 4-H club might be better off to look at eventually building a new facility.
"Is it cost-effective to do all that or is it wiser to start over?" Nuding asked.
Hartings said he would gather updated estimates for some of the larger projects, and commissioners said they would mull the issue over before deciding how to proceed. With limited funding, a long-term plan to address one major project each year might be the answer, they said.