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More input sought on fair building

Meeting Wednesday at fairgrounds

Park County commissioners want to hear your thoughts before deciding how to move forward with a proposal to build a roughly $4 million multi-purpose building at the county fairgrounds.

“This is a substantial upgrade, there’s no doubt about it, so we’ve got to look at it that way,” said Commission Chairman Tim French at last week’s commission meeting. “It’s a major change.”

Commissioners have slated a meeting for 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 4, in the fairgrounds’ Needlework building (also called the small exhibit hall) to discuss the project with the public.

“It might not hurt to have the public hear the word ‘$4 million,’ just to gauge their reaction, because they — the public — might be like, ‘Go buy a whole bunch of tents, we’re good to go,’” Commissioner Bucky Hall said with a laugh.

Commissioners are hoping that most, if not all, of the project can be covered by grants and have hired a grant writer who’s been working to that end.

The building would replace about 17,000 square feet of space provided by the small exhibit hall (and its attached bathrooms and storage space), the arts and crafts hall and the large exhibit hall.

The large exhibit hall was demolished about a year ago after it was discovered that the roof was close to failing. The small exhibit and arts and crafts halls, while still safe, are about the same age.

The proposal that’s been put forward by the Park County Fair board is to replace the structures with a 29,000 square foot facility that would house conference rooms, a large open space and other areas meant to carry on the existing uses.

At a February meeting, commissioners asked Park County Fair Board members to look at scaling back the proposal, but the board decided against reducing the plans. Board members said they’d first like to have an architect or other professional draw up a firmer design and cost estimate.

“Trying to scale back at this point, not knowing how much the building’s really going to cost, we’d like to just continue on getting a professional opinion on it,” said board member Linda Brazelton at last week’s meeting.

“Everything that’s built within this (proposed) new building is coming from existing buildings that are already in place,” Brazelton said, plus “a little bit of room” for growth.

Commissioners Loren Grosskopf said he was “still perplexed” as to why the new building needs to be so large.

“I’m having a hard time swallowing that the need (for space) is 70 percent greater than what we have available (now),” Grosskopf said.

However, Commissioner Dave Burke, the commission’s liaison to the fair board, said the jump in square footage is actually misleading.

Building bathrooms that comply with federal regulations will eat up space, as will hallways, ingress and egress, heating and cooling equipment not present in the current hall, he said. Also, the hope is to move the fair office and cash room from the multi-purpose building to the new facility (with the existing office building potentially being leased out).

“All of this considered, they are leaving room for future growth, but it’s not 70 percent for future growth,” said Burke.

“I think the size of the building’s OK; I just wish it cost about a million bucks less,” said Hall, adding, “I sympathize; I’m not sure where we can cut it down much more.”

However, commissioners unanimously agreed that it would be a good idea to gather input from the public at next week’s meeting before making a commitment.

The county’s grant writer, Stephanie Bennett-Brown, gave the commission some good news: the U.S. Department of Agriculture has released one of the large grants she’s been eyeing.

“We do fit perfectly into it,” Brown said. She also said most of the grants awarded under the program fall in the $2 to $3 million range.

“I don’t think asking for $4 (million), or close to $4 million, is going to be a horrendous stretch for them,” Brown added.

Addressing a concern from French, Brown said that if the agency were to award less than the full amount the county requests, commissioners would be able to scale back their plans.

As an example, if the county asked for $4 million and received $3 million, they could potentially reduce the building’s size to fit the funding.

Brown said it’s unlikely that such a revision would jeopardize the grant.

“Typically, that money stands,” she said.

Commissioners have not decided how much county money they’re willing to put toward the project.

“Even if the price tag stays at $4 million bucks, if the grant gods really shone down on us and we get a $3 million grant, I’d be pretty much supportive of ... ponying up the rest of the money,” Hall said, adding, “This is going to be our next big project for the next year or two.”

French, meanwhile, said that if the county was on the hook for $2 million, “I’m going to have a permanent twitch.”

Earlier, he said that “if the county had to come up with $4 million (of its own money), it’s probably a non-starter.”

Commissioners were unanimous in calling for the project to keep progressing.

“Keep moving forward,” said Commissioner Joe Tilden.

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