In less than 120 days, the Frank W. Bratt Agricultural Center on Turner Road will be moving some of its services.
The county recently received notice that its lease with the United States Department of Agriculture will not be renewed for the first time in almost 30 years at the Turner Road location. The USDA instead opted to lease space from a private company. The new location will be on Fluvanna Avenue.
"Every 10 years, the U.S. Department of Agriculture goes out for bids for housing their organization," said Fred Croscut, R-Sherman. "Which, that takes up over half of the ag building at the ag center."
The USDA’s new lease would move the Agricultural Center to this location on Fluvanna Avenue in Jamestown.
P-J photo by Liz Skoczylas
Although he sold his farm, Croscut has been a dairy farmer for 40 years. He said he has been very grateful to utilize the building on Turner Road over the years, which houses the loan department, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Chautauqua County Soil and Water board and Cornell Cooperative Extension.
George Spanos, director of public facilities for the county, and County Executive Greg Edwards have spent more than two years working with the USDA in order to accommodate its changing needs.
"They told us the building, as constructed back in the 1970s, did not meet the requirements that the federal government now had for the buildings that they would lease," Edwards said. "We told them that we would make the modifications that they requested, but we could not do it for merely another five year lease, because it was significant renovations to meet their requests."
The county instead offered the USDA a 10-year-lease for $86,285.40 per year, which would allow it time to make the required renovations at the lowest possible cost. However, the USDA opted to award the lease to the Benderson Development Company for $1,184,400.
"The federal government told us no, they would not give us the 10-year-lease, and then went right out and signed a 10-year-lease with an owner, landlord, just on the outskirts of the city of Jamestown," Edwards said. "So, they did exactly what they said they would not do with another firm. I'm very discouraged by that."
According to Spanos, although the building has met the needs of the USDA in the past, certain requirements have changed.
"(The USDA) has some guidelines that they follow," he said. "They say we have to have so many private rooms, so much square footage, a kitchen with one sink that has to be porcelain, or whatever. They describe what they need, and we provide what we have. A couple things that we had discussed was the private rooms. The building was constructed open space, cathedral ceilings and all. The rooms are considered semi-private because of the cathedral ceilings. We had offered to put drop ceilings, and obviously they did not accept it."
Now, the USDA will be moving to the newly-leased space, as will the Soil and Water board. According to Edwards, it is yet unclear as to whether Cornell Cooperative Extension will be moving.
"I would not fault them at all if (Cornell Cooperative Extension) moved down there with them to maintain that one-stop-shop opportunity," Edwards said. "I'm certainly doing whatever I can to make this the best scenario possible for our agricultural community. If they elect to move out of the building, I would certainly understand that, however we will do everything we can to be accommodating to them and make that space continue to work for them."
Edwards has also contacted U.S. Rep. Tom Reed, R-Corning, for help.
"Our office has been in contact with both the USDA and the county regarding the Agricultural Center," Reed said. "While we are disappointed that the USDA chose to sign a new lease that means a higher cost to taxpayers, we will continue to advocate USDA to reconsider its decision as a result of these higher taxpayer costs and work to ensure the needs of our local farmers are met."
However, Edwards said despite the call for help by the county, it may be too little, too late.
"Unfortunately, it's my understanding the lease has already been signed," Edwards said. "So, there's very little that can be done at this time."