County board discusses fairground improvements

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 2, 2002

The Mower County Fair Board must act swiftly if members want to have new exhibition buildings ready for the Mower County Fair.

Fortunately, this edition of the Mower County Fair is the one starting a year from now and not the one beginning Tuesday.

The Mower County Board of Commissioners' building committee chair Richard P. Cummings and committee member Garry Ellingson heard a delegation of Fair Board members, and representatives of Mower County Extension Service and Mower County Historical Society discuss building needs Thursday afternoon.

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The delegation told the two building committee members of their plans to spend between $1.2 and $1.4 million to replace three livestock exhibition barns and make other improvements to the fairgrounds.

According to Craig Oscarson, county coordinator, the county commissioners have set aside $2 million of the county's reserves for the overhaul of the Mower County Fairgrounds in southwest Austin.

Already this summer, more than $250,000 has been spent on the renovation of the historical Crane Pavilion exhibition hall and a north access road.

On Thursday, Fair Board president Loren Hanson, and board members, along with Dan Vermilyea and Ann Walter of the Mower County Extension Council and a ZRT, Inc. architect, described what they want to do to the fairgrounds.

The plans call for replacing the exiting sheep barn, the L-barn housing cattle on the northwest sides of Crane Pavilion and hog pens on the south side of Crane Pavilion, according to Oscarson.

The buildings would be replaced by three new 80-by-200-foot buildings of equal square footage to the old and which would be designed for multi-purpose use

The concrete-floored buildings would cost an estimated $25 per square foot, which represents the estimated expenses to demolish the old buildings and erect their replacements.

The proposal heard Thursday does not address the grandstands issues at the fairgrounds. Whether to keep the facility or demolish it remains to be debated.

Cummings, 1st District, and Ellingson, 5th District, gave the delegation until Aug. 13 to make a formal recommendation

A follow up meeting is scheduled 1 p. m. Aug. 12 prior to the Aug. 13 meeting of the entire county board.

Still to be examined are what the Mower County Historical Society board members say are critical building needs at their Historical Center on the east side of the fairgrounds.

In previous meetings, the MCHS has called for a new agricultural display building.

One of the reasons behind Thursday's delegation's calling for three buildings of equal size to the old ones they will replace is the fact that livestock numbers are in decline in the county.

However, the need for the space for livestock comes from a growth in the number of horse projects and the popularity of horse events.

Ken Trom, Fair Board director, said the members want to do "everything we can to keep the National Barrow Show in Austin."

Trom said that was why so much attention has been placed on the renovation of Crane Pavilion, home of the show each September until the sponsors announced a change of plans last fall.

"Whatever they decide to recommend," said Cummings, "we need to hear it as soon as possible in order to make a decision."

"If we decide to proceed with the new building project, we will need to act immediately on the design and building specifications so that they can tear down the old buildings and put up the new after this year's county fair and the start of next year's," he said.

Hanson said the recommendation would be ready on time. "We know we have to act fast if we want to get the old buildings down and the new up before next summer's county fair," Hanson said.

Lee Bonorden can be contacted at 434-2232 or by e-mail at