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Steady pace urged for new fair building

A new multi-use facility for the Park County Fairgrounds may come later rather than sooner.

At a Wednesday night meeting, local residents gave county fair overseers encouragement and advice to take their time on plans to construct an estimated $4 million building.

The advice seemed well-received by Park County Commission Chairman Tim French — who recalled extensive meetings planning the current jail — and Fair Board President Rob Newkirk.

“We want to put a lot of thought into this thing. A lot of thought,” Newkirk said. “We don’t want to get down the road and say, ‘Boy, we wish we’d done something different.’”

Powell resident Lee Craig encouraged the board to look at other facilities to learn what works and what doesn’t, and he advised hiring an architect before making any firm plans.

“Let’s do it right when we do it, and if we have to spend a little bit of money on the architect and planning, let’s do that,” Craig said.

Commissioners have indicated they’re getting close to being ready to hire an architect, but haven’t done so yet.

“Make it big, make it work and don’t worry about what it’s going to cost, because in 20 years, 30 years, 50 years from now, you’ll still want this facility,” offered John Wasden of Powell at the meeting.

He noted that one new elementary school in Powell, Westside, cost around $9 million to build.

“You guys are talking about a building for the whole county — and I don’t think it’s limited to just Park County,” Wasden said.

French was quick to respond that, “The state has much deeper pockets than Park County, and they’re the ones footing the bill for schools.” Commissioners are willing to put a sizable chunk of money towards the facility, but French, for one, has balked at the prospect of spending $4 million of county funds. The county has a grant writer seeking money to pay for the project.

About 15 members of the public attended the meeting and all five county commissioners and all five Park County Fair Board members were there to listen. The four citizens who spoke echoed several items that fair board members have cited as needs — rooms that are wired for the latest technology, the flexibility to partition off different spaces in the building’s open areas and plenty of restrooms.

Rick LaPlante of Powell said he loved the previously-discussed idea of giving the new facility a commercial kitchen that could be used as a business incubator for entrepreneurs trying out marketable recipes. LaPlante, a Northwest College board member, further suggested the fair board consider making a training kitchen with grandstands a part of the design to accommodate cooking classes.

LaPlante and Craig also wondered if it might be possible to move the livestock sale from its cramped current quarters into the new facility, though that wouldn’t be a priority for the structure. Commissioner Dave Burke said he was intrigued by the possibility of RV and auto shows.

The folks speaking complimented the fair board and commissioners for their initial work on the building and their decision to hold a public meeting, though there were some questions.

Maynard Brown of Powell asked who the proposed conference rooms would be targeted to and wondered why a bigger building was needed if the fair isn’t growing. Brown encouraged the board to get area schools more involved in the fair.

Speaking to conference room rentals, Fair Board Member Steve Martin said the board is looking to target local oil companies and agricultural businesses.

As for the issue of fair growth, board member Linda Brazelton said it’s a kind of Catch-22.

“We plan on having more growth, but we can’t grow without having the facility to accommodate these new groups that we’re trying to gather to come to the fair,” she said.

Board member Abby Shuler said there have already been discussions about bringing in more modern fair exhibits, like those for web and graphic design.

“It isn’t just during fair,” Newkirk added. “We’re looking at the whole year and all the activities we can bring in.”

The proposed building would replace about 17,000 square feet of space provided by the small exhibit hall, the arts and crafts hall and the large exhibit hall.

The talk of a replacement facility began last year after the large exhibit hall had to be demolished for safety reasons. The small exhibit and arts and crafts halls are safe, but about the same age.

The Fair Board’s rough proposal outlines a 29,000 square foot facility as a replacement that will include some room to grow.

The structure would likely be built to the west of the existing buildings, allowing them to stay in use while the new facility is built. No clear timeline has been given for the project.

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