Some Montgomery County preservationists are pushing to save the 73-year-old remnants of a working farm in the middle of the county-owned South Germantown Recreational Park, soon to be the home of the 22-field soccerplex.
"This is a precious treasure. It could be a piece of living history--a petting farm, a place for children to find out that milk comes from some place other than the supermarket," said Marcie Stickle, an activist who sought, unsuccessfully, to prevent the destruction of the Silver Spring armory building.
"What's the alternative? One more sterile green lawn for people to play Frisbee on?" said Stickle, who has support from the Germantown Historical Society, Montgomery Preservation Inc. and the Upcounty Citizens' Advisory Board. "Let's keep one little bit of what Germantown used to be."
Others look at the now-boarded-up structures that make up the James and Macie King Farm and see a hugely expensive project to save buildings of only marginal historical value.
"It's not historic! It's been evaluated three times!" said County Council member Nancy Dacek (R-Upcounty). "It's been added on to and redone and redone, and the way it looks now, it's just not worth it.
"I totally understand their desire to save it, but they've got to realize we've got other barns like that in the county and we've got limited resources to spend on these things," Dacek said.
Pressed by Stickle and her allies, the council voted unanimously in March to give the farm a six-month reprieve. The Parks and Recreation Department is reviewing the issue, assembling estimates of the cost to stabilize the buildings and adapt them for re-use by the public.
Its report is scheduled to be presented to the Planning Board on July 29, and the board's recommendation would go to the council in September, according to Migs Damiani, the county's soccerplex manager.
With time running out and the bulldozers poised, Stickle has been waging a kind of preservationist's holy war, lining up support from the farm's descendants, peppering the offices of reporters and county officials with faxes, and calling them at all hours.
Stickle has also been soliciting proposals for groups willing to run programs out of the farm--a church group wants to run wellness and youth programs, a local couple envisions a petting farm and agricultural museum and a former county Planning Board member proposes a youth hostel.
As late as the 1960s, the property was a dairy farm, and the Kings were a prominent couple in the world of Montgomery County agriculture. James D. King was the county's Farm Bureau president for 10 years. Macie King was the first president of the Farm Women's Market in Bethesda, where farmers struggling though the Depression were able to market their products directly to consumers.
The county acquired the property and farm buildings in 1968. Since then, Damiani said, "neither the county nor the tenants living there has put a nickel into it."
Damiani is still studying the issue, but he is clearly skeptical about the prospect of saving the barns, farmhouse, silos and other structures without hugely prohibitive costs.
"From a distance, it looks like a beautiful farm, but you get up close and you realize, holy mackerel, these buildings would have to be totally rebuilt, they're so far gone," he said last week.
Damiani's preliminary estimate is that it would cost a minimum of $1.5 million just to stabilize each building. The cost of making the buildings suitable for public use, with handicapped accessibility and other modifications, could more than double or triple that figure, he said.
Stickle, who is pushing for reinstatement of the $550,000 that was proposed in a previous county budget for the farm, believes the costs to save it would be far less. She notes that some of the people proposing to establish programs there would be willing to raise money to fix the buildings.
"Yeah, and they'd be working on that for six billion years," said Damiani, who worries that the vacant buildings would remain a safety hazard for users of the planned soccerplex.
Advocates say the farm is worth a major investment. They argue that it could play an important role in giving Germantown residents both the community center they have long sought and some visual respite from the dominant landscape of housing developments, town houses and shopping centers.
"Germantown in the last 20 years has been wiped out; its former character has just been totally altered," said Judy Christensen, president of Montgomery Preservation Inc., a coalition of preservation societies in the county. "It's important to save the last intact farm there. It could make that park not just a recreational center but a cultural one."