Douglas County's Land and Development Committee is struggling with the condition of the fairgrounds at 4700 Tower Ave., Superior.
Nearly a decade after a study group laid out the county's options - fix it or get rid of it - little has been done to improve the fairgrounds. While general repairs have been done, no major investment has been made since that group issued its report in 2010.
"Are we going to make a decision through the full County Board ... if we just keep doing these Band-Aid fixes every 10 years where are we going to be in two years or five years?" Supervisor Keith Allen asked. "We need to take a look at the whole property out there and make a decision. Put a few hundred thousand into it, keep it the same and let it fall apart over 20 years or get rid of it. I think we need to make a decision in a direction."
The chairman of the Land and Development Committee, which is responsible for oversight of the fairgrounds, said the county needs to consider its options.
Selling property in the area has proven difficult for the county. Douglas County has been trying to sell county-owned land on the west side of Tower Avenue for more than a decade. One of the challenges is the property's proximity to the municipal airport and building height restrictions imposed Federal Aviation Administration rules.
While the county had struck a deal to sell a portion of the 44-acre fairgrounds to Kestrel Aircraft in 2012, but that deal fell apart.
The fairgrounds and adjacent race track has long served as a recreational venue for a variety of groups including curlers, 4-H, the local beef association, the annual rodeo and a variety of other groups in addition to races and the annual fair.
Adam Olson with the county's Emergency Management, Communications & General Services Department met with fairgrounds managers to assess the condition of the buildings in recent weeks.
"We went in every building except for the announcer's tower at the horse (arena)," Olson said. "Some of the buildings are in OK shape. The 4-H building looks good. I think that's a newer building. The curling club looks good. The other buildings are in rough shape."
Crash Carlson who works with the group contracted to manage the fairgrounds acknowledged there is work that will need to get done, but said the grandstand remains in fair condition.
"Our insurance guy comes and looks (at the grandstand) every year, and it's not ready to fall down by a long shot," Carlson said.
According to a 2009 inspection of the grandstand by AMI Consulting, costs for repairs then would have been between $70,000 to $100,000 then; since then, only about $29,000 in maintenance was completed.
While the grandstand may be in acceptable shape to hold people, it looks pretty rough, and the county should make some improvements, Olson said. He said he didn't feel qualified to assess the buildings further, but presented the committee with options: engaging the city building inspector or the state's Department of Safety and Professional Services to take a look at the structures that are in poor condition, or engaging an engineer to evaluate the buildings and determine the costs for repairs.
Olson said he was concerned that the city's building inspector or DSPS could prevent the county from using the facility because of the conditions of some buildings, but he's also concerned about the county's liability if someone was injured.
"Whether he shuts it down or not, now that we know that, we might as well start with the building inspector," Supervisor Alan Jaques said.
County Board Chairman Mark Liebaert expressed concern about engaging an inspector now with the fair slated to get underway July 16.
"If the inspector goes out there and shuts the place down, where are we then," Supervisor Scott Luostari said. He asked where the county would stand if costly repairs were ordered.
"I feel more comfortable, personally, looking at it now," Jaques said, adding that photographs Olson took increased his concerns about the condition of the fairgrounds. "I'd just hate to see anyone get hurt ... safety is the first concern."
The committee agreed to engage the city's building inspector for now, but Allen said more needs to be done and it's a decision the full board should discuss.
"This property may not be out there if we can't afford to fix it," Jaques said. "There's some big issues that we've got to tackle. Somehow we've got to overcome that and talk about it."
However, with the county facing a crisis in the Health and Human Services Department, Jaques said the fairgrounds and racetrack are not as big a priority for him as providing children's services.
"I kind of agree with Alan that we have to have our priorities, but if there is enough people out in the community that wants to have a bonding issue and increase their taxes just like you do for a school district, we could do it like that," Allen said. "We're here to represent the people, not just make decisions ourselves."
The County Board will consider requesting proposals for management of the fairgrounds and racetrack next year when it meets June 20.
"We should put out an RFP (request for proposals) and see what our options are out there," Jaques said.