County to use bleachers for fair

Published 8:29 am Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The grandstand at the Mower County fairgrounds has been deemed unsafe by a structural engineer, who said repairs could cost as much as $500,000. -- Herald file photo

The issues and future costs may be grand, but there is positive news for the Mower County Fair.

“The good news is the events will all go on,” said County Coordinator Craig Oscarson.

The county board and fair board met earlier this week after a structural engineer’s report released July 9 deemed the grandstand unsafe for use just weeks before the fair, scheduled Aug. 7-12.

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With repairs estimated to cost more than $500,000, the focus now is on the short-term and ensuring events continue as scheduled, which county officials promise they will.

To fill in for the grandstand, the county will rent four sets of temporary bleachers at about $1,400 per set to combine for a seating capacity of about 1,200, according to Oscarson.

Estimated average attendance at the grandstand is 500 to 1,300, with the highest attendance typically being the Sunday demolition derby.

“It should be sufficient,” Oscarson said.

Along with the costs of temporary bleachers, the county will also rent concrete road blocks and take other precautions to ensure safety from potential debris.

With the bleachers, transportation, barriers and other factors, the cost will total around $10,000.

The grandstand experience will be much different this year, with the temporary bleachers expected to be set up north of the current grandstand to face south. Fair-goers will likely enter the grandstand from the west and be funneled to the bleachers. There will also be barriers and temporary bathrooms, so people don’t try to pass through any potentially dangerous areas during the demolition derby or other shows to reach existing restrooms near the old grandstand.

Though the experience will be different, Oscarson said, he expects the changes to be a minor inconvenience this year. For example, there won’t be any overhead protection from sun or rain.

Still, Oscarson said, this is the best option given the challenging circumstances, and he commended the fair board for catching the problem before anything happened.

“We kind of got lucky in that we found out the concern before a tragedy happened,” he said.

The county board is responsible for building projects at the fair grounds and is already discussing options for the future, though a decision is unlikely soon.

Options include repairing the old structure, building a new one or tearing it down and continuing to rent. Repairing the structure or building new would each cost upwards of $500,000.

One person has already come to Oscarson expressing a willingness to volunteer 200 hours of carpentry work to help repair the existing grandstand.

Oscarson said volunteer labor and donations could prove to be a deciding factor in the future of the facility, though he said fundraising and different options have only been discussed in passing.

Future grandstand options

Repair the current grandstand

Plan: Fix all structural issues

and repair seating deficiencies

Cost estimates: $700,000 or more — $500,000 to fix the structure and at least $200,000 for other repairs to seating

A new grandstand

Plan: Tear down the existing grandstand and build a new, 1,500-seat structure

Cost estimates: $500,000 or more

Metal bleachers

Plan: Tear down the current grandstand and replace it with metal bleachers

Costs estimates: $200,000 to $250,000

Rent bleachers

Plan: Tear down the grandstand, build a minimal structure for sun and rain protection and continue renting bleachers each year.

Cost estimate: $7,000 to $10,000 a year. (costs could vary if bleachers are needed for multiple events each year)