GARDNER — By the first of July, a former Forestry Service center with historic ties will get its first new occupants and help prepare the way for other entities that could use the new county facility.
The Mercer County Commission obtained the former federal property earlier this year and started work converting it for the county’s use. Offices for the Economic Development Authority of Mercer County are scheduled to open by July 1, according to County Commissioner Bill Archer.
“The EDA is going to manage the property,” Archer said. “The commission is going to keep up the exterior upkeep and maintain the trails as well as the poor farm.”
People who had nowhere to call home once lived on what was the Mercer County Poor Farm. Its residents made a living by growing crops and raising livestock, but all the remains now is its cemetery, which is now being maintained by the county. The cemetery is a short walk from the former USDA Forestry Center.
The building, which has about 16,000 square feet of room, has historic significance, Archer said. Outside the main entrance is a plaque commemorating when it was dedicated on Nov. 12, 1963. President John F. Kennedy was instrumental in getting the building for Mercer County, and it was opened only a few days before he was assassinated.
When the county was first looking into acquiring the Gardner building, there were plans to make offices available for local law enforcement agencies, fire departments and rescue squads since the location is close to Interstate 77.
“We have had discussions,” Archer stated. “Nothing is set in stone. We’ve contacted other agencies that could benefit from it, and hopefully we’ll get people involved there. We did talk about it with Bluestone Valley (Volunteer Fire Department), but at present they don’t have enough staffing...rescue squads are not interested at this point, but yes, we do have a lot of feelers out.”
Archer said there have been discussions with Concord University and Bluefield State College to make space available for those institutions’ activities. There are also plans to use the center as a location for the newly-formed Mercer County Public Service District, which is working to bring public water and sewer service to more parts of the county.
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