New buildings for fairgrounds planned

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 13, 2002

Yes, Mower County, there is a Santa Claus.

It's the Mower County Board of Commissioners, which Tuesday awarded a contract for $1,704,352 to construct new agricultural display and multi-purpose buildings at the fairgrounds.

The action comes only six weeks before Christmas and felt like a present to the primary beneficiaries, the Mower County Historical Society and National Barrow Show and other major livestock exhibitors.

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Everybody was thankful Tuesday for the county board's quick and decisive action.

"Thank you," said Bob Radloff of the MCHS.

"Thank you very much," said Larry Ranch, a Fair Board director and former NBS superintendent.

"Thank You," said Tony Mudra, a Mower County Fair Board director for 4-H programming and activities.

And, "Thank You," said Denice Mudra, the Fair Board's office manager.

Not since the mid-1980s opening of the Plager Building, a commercial exhibit hall, has there been this kind of excitement concerning the fairgrounds in southwest Austin.

Only two years ago, the Mower County Commissioners balked at participating in a project that would have involved constructing a multi-purpose buildings, whose primary function was to house two sheets of ice for Austin's skating and hockey interests.

Now, the commissioners can hang their collective hat on a four-building project that will change the face of the fairgrounds forever.

"Am I pleased?" remarked MCHS representative and former Fair Board director. "You bet, I'm pleased."

"We're all very happy. It's vital to the future of the Mower County Historical Society and the Mower County Fair and everything else we hope to hold on the fairgrounds."

"For instance, right now the Historical Society has one-of-a-kind antique farm equipment items donated by people like Martin Bustad and Richard Wehner sitting outside, collecting rust. When this building is up, we'll have a place to house them and preserve them forever," Radloff said.

"This has been needed to be done for a long, long time at the fairgrounds," Radloff said.

The decision of the five-member county board to accept the low bid of Wagner Construction Company, Inc. was unanimous Tuesday.

Four other bids were received, ranging upwards to $1.832 million.

Zen, Read, Trygstad, Inc. architects retained by the county board, attempted to seek the most competitive bids possible for the three new 80-by-200-foot steel that will replace antiqued livestock buildings surrounding Crane Pavilion, the anchor of the fairgrounds western half.

In addition, a new 60 by 120 foot steel agricultural display building will be erected in the far southeast corner of the fairgrounds for the Historical Society.

Wagner Construction Company, Inc., low bid is $3,000 more than architects' estimates for the four buildings.

Richard P. Cummings, 1st District county commissioner and chairman of the board's building committee, said the money -- which comes from the county's estimated $32 million in reserves -- will be well-spent.

"The buildings are old and in some cases deteriorated, so it was necessary to make this investment in the fairgrounds," Cummings said.

Garry Ellingson, 5th District county commissioner and also on the county board's building committee, said, "I fully support the project. The need is there. Now, we just have to develop a revenue stream for the buildings the year-around, because they're intended to be multi-purpose buildings."

David Hillier, 3rd District county commissioner, said the improvements will be "good for the entire county and good for the youth of our community." Hillier, too, emphasized the multi-purpose focus of the three new buildings surrounding Crane pavilion.

Ray Tucker, 2nd District, took a more cautionary approach to the project.

Tucker said there are unknown costs that could drive the project's costs to more than $2 million.

"We don't really know how much we will have to spend on these buildings until we're through with them and they are up and running," Tucker said. "For instance, we know it will cost upwards to $200,000 for the livestock pens in the three buildings."

Len Miller, 4th District county commissioner and chairman of the county board, said, "This is good for Mower County and good for the city of Austin. We took a long-term approach to our buildings needs at the fairgrounds."

Miller also stressed, "We will need to develop revenue source for the buildings the year around, because that is what we're building: multi-purpose buildings for many uses."

Craig Oscarson, county coordinator, said soil borings and anticipated drainage concerns for siting the buildings were reasons the successful low-bid exceeded the architect's estimated costs.

Brendan Wagner, spokesman for Wagner Construction Company, Inc., admitted, "Time is of the essence." Wagner said the new Historical Society building will be constructed first.

Plans call for all four buildings to be completed in time for the 2003 Mower County Fair.

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