A master plan for the future development of the Cooperative Extension grounds off of U.S. 421, which Extension officials called an “innovative and unique opportunity” to enhance and develop the county-owned property into something unlike anything else in the region, was approved by the Sampson County Board of Commissioners.
Kent Wooten, director of the Cooperative Extension Service in Sampson County, and landscape contractor Scott Makey, with Old Mill Stream Nursery and Landscaping Inc., presented the proposed plan for the development of the grounds surrounding the Cooperative Extension facility during a meeting earlier this week.
“We’re looking at developing our site in order to help us be a more effective educational institution,” said Wooten, “to be able to enhance the grounds of the county and be able to facilitate any public citizens who would like to come and enjoy the property that the county owns. It is certainly a work in progress and the steering committee would help us continue to develop and enhance the plan, and make sure it is the best it can possibly be.”
In 2009, Cooperative Extension secured a grant that allowed for the addition of a teaching greenhouse and garden area, which Wooten said has enhanced the Extension’s ability to serve clientele through hands-on learning activities, be it at-risk youth learning life skills, master gardener training opportunities, plant sales for horticulture programs or activities aimed to raise awareness of healthy eating.
Building upon the success of that grant project, Cooperative Extension staff procured grant and private funding for a collaboration with a professional landscape architect and landscape contractor — that led to the creation of a blueprint for further development of the grounds for educational and cultural purposes, the master plan.
“The greenhouse was kind of the catalyst that moved us forward with this,” Wooten said. “Because of that success, it made us start thinking a little bit about what we have at the Cooperative Extension Office in those grounds.”
He said two things became apparent.
First, the grounds are an invaluable resource. Second, a Master Plan needed to be developed so that resource could be utilized to its full potential. That plan, developed with the hired landscape contractor and architect, was presented to the Board of Commissioners earlier this week.
“A master plan has been developed resulting in a working blueprint that effectively promotes and utilizes our resources. The development of this plan will ultimately enable us to better serve the citizens of Sampson County,” said Wooten, noting that it helps build on current services and an atrium filled with informative displays of agriculture practices past and present. “The Grounds Master Plan takes this idea outside in the form of an arboretum-style educational facility.”
Makey echoed those thoughts.
“What we’ve tried to come up with here is an extension of what we already have in the county,” said Makey, who assisted in creating the plan. “We’ve got a beautiful building already out there, an atrium that is almost like a museum-quality structure when you walk in. There are displays of agriculture, it is a real opportunity for learning. We’ve tried to extend that learning opportunity outside, into the rest of the property we have there.”
The plan includes parking and traffic flow improvements at Cooperative Extension and the neighboring Livestock Facility, arboretum-style gardens and woodland trails with fitness and learning stations, training areas for certified plant professionals, 4-H and youth, agriculture science and school trips. The plan also includes storm water management techniques, sustainable horticulture and agriculture techniques, as well as a new classroom building and amphitheater.
The woodland trail would be paved so they could be walked on by everybody, Makey said. The amphitheater, which would be placed between the main Cooperative Extension building and the Livestock Facility, could have “uses beyond education,” to include the county hosting events or leasing it out for weddings and other programs.
“As there is no other facility like this in our region, a special events space will provide outdoor venues for entertainment, banquets and receptions for all our county’s citizens,” said Wooten. “There is a lot that is encompassed in this plan. Realizing this is an ambitious undertaking, we feel confident that with the support and assistance of many interested parties, our efforts will be successful.”
Commissioner Albert Kirby said he was supportive of long-range development and what the plan entails.
“It looks like something that would certainly be most appealing to the citizens of Sampson County and Cooperative Extension,” said Kirby.
Kirby asked what the current cost would be to the county. Wooten said private funds are being sought to implement the plan, but did not rule out coming to the county board with a request for resources in the future. However, that was not the goal, he said.
“I will not promise you that I will not come back at some point and ask for some money,” Wooten said, “but our objective is to use private sources of dollars in order to do this. We have a lot of different interests in the county and this plan addresses a lot of those interests. I feel confident we can secure some funding from all those different interests to help move this project forward.”
While budget numbers have not been finalized as to the cost of the plan’s implementation, the ultimate aim was to pay for upgrades, as well as future maintenance of new amenities, with private and grant dollars, Wooten said.
“I think we’ve come up with a real comprehensive, very detailed plan,” said Makey. “I think it’s been well thought-out and we would ask for your blessing for us to be able to move forward to the next level with this as a steering committee.”
On a motion by Commissioner Jefferson Strickland, the board unanimously approved the proposed master plan, giving the committee authority to move forward with its implementation. A Master Plan Steering Committee has been formed to oversee the continued development of the grounds, fundraising efforts, plan implementation and management.
“Will it happen tomorrow? No,” said Wooten, “but you’ve got to plan today for tomorrow.”
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at email@example.com.