OPINION - Steve weller Editorial comic 4-13
Fairgrounds grandstand represents team effort, creativity, perseverance

 

If we’ve learned anything from experience in Sanpete County, it’s that it takes public officials, community volunteers, creativity and perseverance to get a major community project off the ground.

It has taken all of those things and more for Sanpete County and the Sanpete County Fairboard to get ready to put a new fairgrounds grandstand and arena out to bid.

We’ve known for years that the current grandstand, at 95-plus years old, wasn’t adequate and wasn’t up to code.

But it wasn’t until 2012 that Wade Anderson, then fair chairman, and Mike Bennett, vice chairman at the time, convinced the Sanpete Commission that something had to be done.

The county applied for and received an $11,000 planning grant from the Utah Community Impact Board (CIB). The county hired Jones and Demille Engineering to evaluate the old grandstand and draft a fairgrounds master plan.

Garrick Willden, senior engineer in engineering firm’s Manti office, confirmed that old grandstand was nearing the point of being unsafe. Then, under Fairboard direction, he drew up a master plan for the fairgrounds with an estimated price tag of $1.8 million.

The plan called, first, for tearing down the old grandstand and using the current arena as a warmup area. It called for building a new arena, with a new, covered grandstand, north of the present one, with the grandstand facing south.

The master plan also called for building a new concession building under the new grandstand, for remodeling one restroom and building three new ones, and for installing new sidewalks tying fair facilities and activities together.

With Willden’s assistance, the Fairboard put together an application to the CIB. In late 2015, it was funded for $895,000, which at time, was the estimated cost of the grandstand only.

That left the Fairboard, by then chaired by Bennett, with Matt Reber as co-chair, with an elephant to swallow. It was up to them to raise another $905,000 from foundations, business and private donations, to complete the $1.8 million budget.

Bennett and Reber have literally scoured the county. And dozens of organizations, businesses and individuals have stepped up.

The George S. and Dolores Dore Eccles Foundation committed $150,000, contingent on other fund raising. The Manti Ambulance Company had some money left over from constructing its new ambulance building. It gave $30,000. The Mormon Pioneer National Heritage Area, a partner in so many projects in Central Utah over the past 10 years, chipped in $30,000.

Companies that have given amounts ranging from a few thousand to $40,000 include Zions Bank, Cache Valley Bank, Barclay Mechanical and Rocky Mountain Power.

Municipalities that have pledged amounts ranging from $3,000 to $6,000 per town include Fairview, Ephraim, Fountain Green, Moroni, Gunnison, Centerfield and Mayfield have pledged amounts ranging from $3,000 to $6,000 per town.

The result is that as of April 1, the Fairboard had $493,000 in private or in-kind donations pledged or in hand.

But when the Fairboard and county commission reviewed the project in March, there wasn’t enough money available to start work on the kind of stands the Fairboard wanted to build.

So Bennett, Reber and others searched the Internet. They found a company in Minnesota that had deconstructed two NASCAR stadiums and were selling off the 12-year-old salvaged stands at bargain prices.

The fair leaders negotiated purchase of enough materials from the Minnesota company to build a 3,750-seat grandstand. That’s more than three times the number of seats in the current grandstand. The deal included two smaller stands that could be placed on the opposite site of the arena containing another 3,000 seats. On top of that, the fair volunteers were able to purchase bleachers from the Minnesota company that could be placed on the sides of the arena containing another 2,500 seats.

That will create approximately 9,500 seats. And the total cost was $457,000, a little more than half the original estimate for the main grandstand only.

We commend Mike Bennett, Matt Reber, Garrick Willden, the Fairboard, present and former county commissioners, municipalities, businesses and individuals who have helped accomplish what many times over the past five years looked to be impossible.

There is a chance the new grandstand will be ready for this year’s fair. But with extra design work required to adapt previous plans to the added seating, the facility may still be under construction during the 2017 fair. That means the fair may have to use the old grandstand for one final year. But the new stands and arena will definitely be in place by 2018.

However, fairgrounds improvement can’t stop with the new arena. While it will take another two to three years, and while, if you can believe it, more money still needs to be raised, we urge all involved to persevere in order to complete the concession stand, restrooms, lighting, fencing, sidewalks and all elements in the original master plan.