The days of calling it “the CHAMPS Multipurpose Center” may just be numbered, according to an eight-page draft prospectus written by the board of Orange County CHAMPS (Community Hands Assemble a Multipurpose Structure).

Here, the facility proposed for Farm Road 1442 is the “Orange County Expo and Rural Life Center.”

The prospectus emphasizes, “This document is a draft and is subject to additional refinement – it is not the final plan” as further input is sought regarding priorities, strengths and weaknesses.

Emergency Management has received a $9.86 million grant from the Texas Department of Rural Affairs. The full cost of the center being looked at is $22.8 million. With $12.3 million listed as insurance reimbursements from FEMA or disaster-related grants the county expects in the future, remaining monies needed are listed at $10.5 million.

“Of [those funds], CHAMPS expects to contact businesses, families, foundations, and individuals from throughout Southeast Texas to raise the money needed in a phased development program based on priorities and input received during the feasibility study,” said Bobby Fillyaw with the Orange County Economic Development Corp. (EDC). “The amount needed … will not be added to the debt load of Orange County. The money generated by CHAMPS through the private sector will pay off construction costs within five years.”

He added that, as with all long-term proposals, these figures are rough estimates.
CHAMPS is a joint effort between concerned residents (including Master Gardeners and Orange County Chapter of Senior Citizens), Orange County commissioners, the Orange County Office of Emergency Management and EDC; as well as other local and civic leaders.

A nonprofit group, CHAMPS was organized five years ago to replace the Hurricane Rita-damaged Old Timers Pavilion. In addition to areas for community meetings, senior citizen and youth activities, the facility could include an arena for rodeos and livestock shows. The only rodeo arena in Orange County now is the Sheriff’s Posse arena, which is old, has limited seating and is unusable during inclement weather.

There is also a pressing need for a permanent home for the Texas Agrilife and Road and Bridge offices, and a new county Emergency Operations Center from damage to the old AT&T building caused by Hurricane Ike.

The Mark Magnuson firm has prepared preliminary drawings and possible use plans. This month CHAMPS retained Convergent Nonprofit Solutions “to examine the feasibility of raising private sector funds to help build a new multi-purpose campus for Orange County and take advantage of the timing of the federal grant.”

Some descriptions from the prospectus:

• Multipurpose Structure – $13 million: It will contain a large, 10,000 square foot room that will be available for a variety of uses. This great room will enable the facility to host large gatherings such as conventions, conferences, regional meetings and other large-scale community events. It will be the largest meeting space of its kind in Orange County. The facility will include space for the Texas AgriLife Extension Service and provide space for educational workshops, seminars and continuing education; Master Gardener volunteers; a library for the public offering resource books on horticulture and agriculture; smaller conference rooms for modest-sized groups; and youth programs such as 4H and FFA.

The Orange County Chapter of Senior Citizens will utilize public conference rooms and seminar space to generate programs, services and activities for a broad cross section of people. In addition to the Emergency Management Services, the building will also house offices for the County Road and Bridge Department as well as Environmental Health and Code Compliance.

To support the community’s emergency management needs the facility will contain state-of-the-art satellite communication and high tech equipment. The building’s role as an emergency management center requires it to be built well above the flood plain, hardened to be capable of sustaining tornado-force winds of at least 200 mph, and equipped with a self contained emergency power supply. When needed, Emergency Management Services will make use of the great room as a shelter for first responders as well as a shelter of last resort for persons with special needs.

• Parking Lot/Grounds – $3 million: The facility will require a lighted, hard surfaced parking lot along with appropriate entrances, exits and signage. The parking areas will utilize xeriscaping (low maintenance landscaping) using plants native to the area. An open area will be provided for the Master Gardeners organization to install a research garden as well as an area for their semi-annual plant sales. Both interior and exterior design will feature “green” technology to minimize the facilities carbon footprint and keep operating expenses at a minimum. Electric and water utilities will be provided on site. Wastewater will be treated through rural sewage lines.

• Covered Arena – $3 million: Plans call for a covered arena for outdoor events such as Farmers’ Market, livestock shows, rodeos, flower shows, high school graduations, music concerts and community festivals. The clear-span facility will double as a shelter of last resort for pets of evacuees, search and rescue animals and large animals that may be left behind.

• Lighted Athletic Fields – $1.5 million: The addition of lighted athletic fields will mean that eventually the Center will be able to host regional and state youth and church league tournaments as well as regular league play for area youth and church organizations. The new facilities will include aluminum bleachers, storage rooms, a concession stand and restrooms. The fields could be expanded as the demand increases in future years.

• Indoor Shooting Range – $1 million: CHAMPS is committed to conservation of wildlife and gun safety programs. The Expo Center will include an enclosed shooting range for target practice. This will provide 4H youth leaders an opportunity to promote and teach responsible gun safety and promote the shooting sports. It will offer children growing up in the city an opportunity to participate in firearms education and safety programs. It will also provide a venue for hunter safety classes of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. The facility will encourage a greater understanding of sportsmen and the role they play in wildlife conservation.

• Operations – $900,000: Annual expenses for building repairs and maintenance, along with service contracts and building grounds maintenance, are projected to be in the range of $180,000 per year. This fundraising effort will provide funds to cover the first five years operation. After that, expenses will be paid from program revenue, contractual agreements, rent, and admission fees for special events.

• Administrative Fees and Ongoing Investor Relations – $400,000: Administrative fees include five-year costs of professional fees, printing, telephone and associated travel as well as the implementation of a sound Investor Relations and Recognition Program. These fundraising expenses are expected to remain less than 2 percent of the overall $22 million drive.