BELTSVILLE, Md. – Rep. Steny Hoyer cut the ribbon Thursday on the first completely remodeled building at the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center, where an ambitious renovation program is underway.
The building, which will house environmental research programs, is the first of about 200 on the grounds expected to be completely revamped by the year 2020. Another 400 buildings will be torn down, officials said.
“The bricks and mortar are tangential,” said Hoyer, D- Mechanicsville, referring to the facelift the 53-year-old Natural Resources Building received. “It is the people who make them come alive, who justify this investment,” he told the more than 200 people, mostly BARC staff, attending the ceremony and building tour.
Home to such developments as the sonogram and the disease- resistant potato, BARC is one of the most renowned agricultural research centers in the world and, with 1,500 employees, the largest in the country.
But during the Reagan administration, officials with the USDA and the center feared it might moved to the Midwest, BARC director Darwin Murrell said. The center was bypassed by Congress in 1988 for appropriations money, when then-director Waldemar Classen called it “an embarrassment” to the country because of its dilapidated state.
Hoyer was instrumental in securing the $115 million in federal funds the center has received in the last decade for its modernization program, Murrell said.
Nearly $10 million was spent on refurbishing the building, which could not meet government health and safety codes, Murrell said.
“The whole building was a disaster,” he said. “It was dismal and depressing, with inadequate windows and peeling paint.”
Window air-conditioning units were taken out and replaced with a centralized system, the leaky roof that had been up since 1943 was torn down, hallways were widened and ceilings raised in the two-year refurbishment project.
The more than 50 scientists working in the building have been scattered throughout the 7,000-acre campus since it was closed for improvements in 1994. They will be reunited when Building 001 reopens, around Jan. 1.
The building will house labs that since 1993 have been working to develop farming techniques that better protect soil, air and water quality, including in the Chesapeake Bay area.
Most of BARC’s 600-plus buildings are between 50 and 80 years old and badly in need of repair, many employees said.
“All the buildings on Circle Drive (on the campus) are really old and not real pleasant to work in,” said Sara Reynolds, a microbiologist who will work in the Natural Resources Building when it reopens.
When renovations are completed, a few new structures will be built, more than 400 buildings will be knocked down and the exteriors and/or facilities of the remaining ones will be modernized.
“We still have a long way to go,” Murrell said. “Some sections are still an embarrassment.” -30-