Article by: Ben Conley, The Dominion Post
MORGANTOWN — The Monongalia County Commission brought along a potential tenant during a recent tour of its $4.5 million Monongalia County Extension Service and 4-H Center, in Mylan Park.
The Greater Morgantown Convention and Visitors Bureau will lose its current home at 341Chaplin Road to the state’s redesign of I-79 Exit 155, construction of which is planned for late 2020.
“It’s something we’d like you to look at,” Commission President Tom Bloom told CVB representatives. “You’re one of the groups we feel would fit well in here. We want it to be something, a nonprofit or something so we’re not competing with anyone.”
The second floor of the building will be the new home of WVU Extension Services and a regional hub for the West Virginia Department of Agriculture — both of which could start moving in as early as October.
Along with the primary first floor space that was shown to the CVB, the lower level also includes a multi-purpose room with space to seat 200, direct access to a 15,000 square-foot connected pavilion and an incubator kitchen.
Commissioner Ed Hawkins explained that the kitchen will allow prospective entrepreneurs to develop, test and prepare items for market with a relatively small investment.
“It’s expensive to buy a commercial kitchen and produce something under a certification so that you’d be able to market it,” Hawkins said. “You’ll be able to rent this kitchen and develop your product … It’s called economic development. That’s what we look for as a commission.”
The building will include a teaching kitchen on the second floor for the 4-H program.
Mylan Park Foundation President Ron Justice said the facility’s outdoor pavilion and multi-purpose space will also fill a need for the park.
“This helps Mylan Park because right now we have a number of events that happen at the [Hazel and J.W.] Ruby Center that are really too small for the Ruby Center, but could easily fit in here,” he said
The building will be owned by the Mylan Park Foundation and leased to the county through a lease-purchase agreement. Once the terms of the lease expire, ownership of the building will move to the county.
The commission currently pays about $71,000 annually for the Westover office space used by extension services.
Conversely, Justice said, the new facility could generate between $180,000 and $200,000 annually for the county through rent while also serving as a magnet for regional and national agriculture events.
Hawkins added that the facility will finally give extension services a home fitting of its efforts.
“It’s been an embarrassment growing up in 4-H and extension, that there was never really any identification of extension. This is the home of the state’s land grant university. I always joked that you could ask 10 people where the extension office is and at least seven wouldn’t know,” he said. “This will make it a focus.”
Facilities management firm Centers, which handles operations at Mylan Park, will manage the facility.
Commissioner Sean Sikora said the county will have the building paid off in the current fiscal year.
The extension facility is actually one of two major projects expected to come online in Mylan Park in the coming months.
Justice said the new aquatic center that will serve as the home of WVU and prep swimming and diving will likely have a public opening in early November.
The $35 million aquatic center is part of the Mountaineer Center along with the neighboring $7 million track facility, which opened last October.
The aquatic center will feature a 50-meter competition pool as well as a diving pool with a dive tower and springboards. It will also house a 25-meter community pool along with amenities like slides and an outdoor splash pad. The second and third floors will house workout facilities, office space and classrooms.
Justice said scheduling for the facility is already underway and he expects swim teams to be in the building sometime in October.
“We’re down to the last items and as of right now, unless something unforeseen happens, we’re on schedule,” he said.
The project is a collaborative effort between Mylan Park, WVU, the County Commission, the Monongalia County Board of Education (BOE) and the Hazel Ruby McQuain Charitable Trust, which provided $15 million, the largest single gift the trust has ever made.
Information on community membership costs is not yet available, though rental rates are available at mylanpark.org.