Pittsboro, NC – Here’s the transcript of the first part of our conversation with Sam Groce, the Chatham County County Extension Director, on the grand opening day of the new Chatham County Agriculture and Convention Center in Pittsboro.
Gene Galin: I’m here with Sam Groce on the grand opening of the new Chatham County Ag Convention Center outside of Pittsboro. If you talk to a bunch of people, he’s one of the driving forces behind this center. We got this opportunity to sit down with Sam and get his take on how this whole process started.
Sam, how did this whole process start?
Sam Groce: It started many years ago, Gene. Our building was reaching 50 years old, the old Chatham County Agriculture Center. We had stairs in it, no elevator. It was getting more and more difficult to conduct programs. Chatham County Extension and Soil and Water FSA were well known around the state, and we had a lot of people wanting to come to our programs, and we were ending up having to limit our attendance because the auditorium would only seat 103 at tables, and at 103 and tables, you couldn’t move in there. We needed more space for having our programming, to do our programming, to meet the needs of our citizens.
We started in the late ’90s trying to get a new center built. What we were looking at then really didn’t compare to what we ended up getting now. It really only stayed on the county’s capital improvement plan for one year. Then in about 2010, 2011, after I become the County Extension Director, I sort of revived that. Sometimes I’ve been, my personality type, to use some vernacular, I can be like a dog with a bone.
I set a goal for myself during my tenure as the County Extension Director that I really wanted to get a new agriculture center built in Chatham County. We needed a lot of meeting space because there’s nowhere really in the county, except for some private places, and that’s not that large, to have any large meetings. I know within Extension, we need a lot of space, seven, eight, nine, time tens a year. We don’t need it every day, but there are times that we really need it.
I started going and talking to county leadership, the county manager’s office, the county commissioners about that need, and explaining that need and demonstrating that need, trying to invite them in sometimes when the old building was completely full or we were having to go out to Silk Hope or somewhere else because we didn’t have the space that we needed.
Renee sort of hinted around to it this morning. I worried them to death in a way, trying to keep explaining our issues and the issues that we had. We do some great programming. We do a lot of programming, but as I’ve already said, we don’t need all the space all the time. As a part of the selling point to this, because there is no major meeting space within Chatham County, I used the example of this will be space that we can rent out. Nonprofits can rent it. Other groups can rent it. We can bring people into Chatham County willing to spend their money, and then they go back home which helps bring an influx of tax dollars.
That’s sort of where this dream of the Chatham County Agriculture and Conference Center came from, and we just progressed with it from there and moved forward.