Fair board set priorities for fairgrounds at public forum


The Great Northern Fair Board held a final public forum Tuesday to collect public input on what to do with money raised through a new tax for the fairgrounds approved in November’s election.

The board is holding these meetings because the public voted to provide the fair board with a mill levy for the fairgrounds. These forums, Fair Board Chair Tyler Smith said, were the best way to get community input on what they would like to see the mill levy used for.

“I want to show that we are good stewards of the money, we are making good choices and then things are moving forward,” he said.

This was the second and final public forum scheduled by the fair board. The first forum, Jan. 29, was held to hear what the public thought needed to be done at the fairgrounds. Monday, the board went over each item discussed and determined what was a priority for the board.

Board Vice Chair Chelby Gooch said that this year the board could do some of the smaller things on the list that are not large capital projects, projects that people will be able to see, such as the signage for the fair, air conditioning in the commercial building and providing a handicap shuttle.

She said some of these could increase revenue for the fair while also showing the community that the money is being well-spent and working toward the future.

Community member, 4-H volunteer and former fair board member Karla Vaughn said projects such as putting up signage or planting trees in the campground could be 4-H projects.

Community member and 4-H Chuckwagon Committee member Josh Heitzenroder said 4-H has a variety of programs for kids and some of those programs could help the fair board. Fair board and the 4-H should go hand-in-hand, he said.

“The fairgrounds really ought to be the pride of the 4-H,” he said.

He added that 4-H’ers can help the fairgrounds by doing small engine projects, planting trees or building signs. He said he has a computer numerical control, or CNC, lathe which he could use with the 4-H’ers to build signs.

Smith said the priorities for the fairgrounds that should be completed before this year’s Great Northern Fair are putting up signage, installing air conditioning for the commercial building, planting trees at the campgrounds and technological advances.

Technological advances, he said, would include providing internet at the Chuckwagon building, the commercial building, the Bigger Better Barn and the campgrounds.

He said he has not gotten any bids on the projects, although he believes technological upgrades will pay for themselves.

Other items on the list the fair board made for the fairgrounds include making road repairs, moving the fairgrounds office to the former location of the H. Earl Clack Memorial Museum on the north side of the fairgrounds, demolishing the old 4-H bathrooms that have been replaced by bathrooms in the Chuckwagon, creating new parking areas, improving the walls of the Bigger Better Barn, adding handicap bathrooms for the Bigger Better Barn, putting a new roof on the horse barn, installing new pavement for the RV park, conducting saline mitigation, grading the grounds, improving drainage, installing new grandstands, replacing the commercial building and adding a gravel area south of Bigger Better Barn.

Smith said the board organized these things through the prioritis set by the community, the cost of each idea and revenue generated by the improvement.

Hill County Extension Agent Shylea Wingard said she wants to see improvements to the grounds.

“I think this fairgrounds has a lot of potential,” Wingard said.

If the 4-H, fair board, rodeo and other groups worked together for the fairgrounds, she said, they can make great improvements on the grounds.

She said some work really needs to be addressed, although the fair board needs to keep in mind revenue-generating projects.

Last year, the fair charged parking fees, she said and because of that fee some people didn’t attend the fair, some didn’t pay the fee and others happily paid it. It is important that, before the next fair, the board thinks out a plan of what to do next year, she said.

Smith said the parking fees generated $28,000.

“It saved the budget of the fair. If we didn’t have that parking money we would be in equally as bad shape as we were the year before,” he added.

Wingard said that many of the larger projects the board has suggested fall under the requirements of the Montana Tourism Grant. This grant would require matching funds but can help bring more people to the fair and get to projects quicker.

For every $2 of the grant, $1 dollar is required as a match, she said, but the grant can pay anywhere from $10,000 to $100,000 for projects. She added that she hates to see the fair board struggle with finances if there are options for grants out there.

Many other communities apply for this grant, Wingard said.

Smith said the board should look into this grant further.

Other items during the meeting

During the meeting, Smith also introduced some rough drafts for building plans. He said these are conceptual ideas but wanted to show people what the board had in mind. The sketch on changes for the bleachers at the arena showed an idea of orienting the stands 90 degrees right, so that the sun and wind are at people’s backs, he said. He added that he also would like to speak to the fair board for Cascade County, because they recently tore down their grandstand and put up a new one made of steel. He said he would like to talk to them about the cost and the specifics of their project.

The grandstands at the fairgrounds arena were torn down last decade due to safety issues and replaced with bleachers. New grandstands have yet to be built due to high costs.

The board added that they are currently looking into options to provide shade for the bleachers at the fairgrounds, considering a tarp kind of cover.

Another drawing Smith presented was for handicap-accessible bathrooms in the Bigger Better Barn. He said the design encroaches too much into the arena and they would need to figure out a way to build the bathroom without affecting the user-space of the Bigger Better Barn.

He said one idea that he was told about would be to expand the Bigger Better Barn by 100-square-feet along the entire width of the building. This would create room for indoor stalls and warm-up areas, he said, although this is only just an idea.

The board is also considering putting in a parking area on the east side of the fairgrounds, he said, which would cut across the midway. Smith said this parking area would not cost much and would have no asphalt, although it would incorporate drainage to prevent the area from flooding. Ideally, he said, some manholes would be included to collect water and run it off the area.

The lot would be gravel, with the ground tamped approximately a foot to prevent mud from working up, and have geofabric, he said. He said once the board had more money it would be able to pave the lot.

Smith said they can also improve a few of the roads before the fair as well as putting a hard surface in front of the Bigger Better Barn and the Chuckwagon.

Antique Show organizer Charlie Inman said the board should also consider getting good grass in some areas. He said a hard surface is good for car shows and other things, but for antique farm equipment grass would be better.

Smith said another item the board will look into is a bathroom trailer. This trailer could be moved around the county and would be owned by the foundation, he said. He said the option may be cheaper than building a bathroom. There are cheap options, he said, such as models used in the oil fields that have bathrooms, hot water heaters and storage tanks built in.

Bob Kaul said he thinks the board should go back to ground one with the whole setup of the fairgrounds to provide better drainage.

Smith said this would cost a tremendous amount of money which would not be recover.

Kaul said they could work on this project piece-by-piece, using the plans the board received in 2016.

“It’s not an expense it’s an investment in the future,” he said.


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