By Patrick Winderl
An engineer has recommended the grandstand and one of the bleachers at the Hill County Fairgrounds be torn down and replaced.
The recommendation - with a price tag of about $500,000 - came following an assessment of the grandstand that found weakened and failed support beams, water damage and poor construction.
"Any further deterioration ... could cause a catastrophic failure of the entire grandstand structure," Jay Springer of Milk River Engineering said in his report. "The structure is inadequate as a whole."
On a rating of one to 10, Springer gave the structure a three.
"This leaves you with two options," he said in an interview today. "You can try to repair what you have, or you can tear it down and start over. The better option of the two is to start from scratch."
The Hill County Commission met with the Great Northern Fair Board Thursday to discuss Springer's report.
County Commissioner Doug Kaercher said the instability of the grandstand represents a serious liability issue for the county, and it was estimated repairs to the grandstand would be more expensive than replacing it.
The unanimous consensus of the two groups was to replace the grandstand with aluminum bleachers, but the commission decided not to move forward without public comment. A public meeting will held in the basement of the Hill County Courthouse at 5:30 p.m. on Feb. 10.
Replacing the grandstand will not be inexpensive. Construction firms have said the cost of replacing the grandstand and the east-side bleachers with aluminum bleachers will top $400,000, according to the fair board. Replacing fencing and installing utility lines will bring the total cost of the project to about $500,000.
The east-side bleachers will be moved into the Bigger Better Barn to replace bleachers on the south side of the barn.
A public bond may be issued to generate the money needed, the commissioners said. Acquiring a loan would not be possible because events at the fairgrounds do not raise enough money to pay off a loan of $500,000, Commissioner Pat Conway said.
Achieving the necessary votes for a special bond issue will not be easy, Hill County Attorney David Rice said. If less than 30 percent of registered voters turn out, the motion will automatically die. If between 30 and 40 percent of eligible voters cast ballots, a 60 percent majority in favor of the bond is needed. A simple majority would pass the measure if more than 40 percent of voters turn out, Rice said.