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Columbia County Fair grandstand (copy)

The  Columbia County Fair grandstand, built in 1935 as part of the Depression-era Works Progress Administration, needs work whose cost could top $1 million. The Portage Parks and Recreation Board on Tuesday pondered asking Columbia County's help in paying for grandstand improvements.

Maybe Columbia County should help pay to fix up the historic Columbia County Fair grandstand, members of Portage’s Parks and Recreation Board mused Tuesday.

The fairgrounds, including the historic art deco grandstand, are the city’s property.

But since the grandstand is rarely used except during the Columbia County Fair’s four-day run in the fourth week of July, board members, including Chairman Brian Zirbes, wondered aloud whether county officials could be persuaded to help the city with a project that could have a seven-figure price tag.

“If it’s more of a county facility, then it should benefit everyone in the county,” Zirbes said.

The board, continuing a conversation from October, reviewed an 11-page report from General Engineering Company of Portage about the options for the structure, built in 1935.

Those options, and their cost estimates, include:

  • Exterior structural work, including accessible ramps, railings and seating: $900,000 to $1.1 million.
  • Adding new, larger restrooms before the seating area: $560,000 to $600,000.
  • Renovating existing restrooms: $235,000 to $375,000.
  • Building new restrooms, in a separate freestanding building: $700,000 to $750,000.
  • Adding a new roof canopy over existing seating: $485,000 to $575,000.
  • Building a storm shelter with a unisex restroom: $130,000 to $160,000.
  • Demolishing the grandstand: $50,000 to $100,000.
  • Building a new free-standing steel grandstand: $675,000 to $800,000.
  • Repairing cracks and painting the exterior, with 20 percent improvement in accessibility: $710,000 to $750,000.

Since there are no plans, and no money, to do anything with the grandstand in the next few years, those cost estimates likely will rise if and when a decision is made to go ahead with a grandstand improvement project, said board member Mark Hahn.

“Unless there are other uses for this, it’s very hard for me to ask the people for $1 million for a facility that nobody uses, and that we’re not getting any money out of,” Hahn said.

Parks and Recreation Manager Dan Kremer said the report found the grandstand’s structure is sound, and the facility can continue be used safely — although for how many years, it’s hard to say.

“But the sky’s not falling tomorrow,” he said.

Refurbishing could add 25 to 30 years to the life of the facility, he said.

Historic designation

Kremer said the city’s Historic Preservation Commission was consulted about the grandstand, because the structure is listed on the city’s historic register. The Historic Preservation Commission would have to issue a certification of historical appropriateness for any work done on the grandstand.

The grandstand is made of white-painted concrete blocks, with fluted columns, triangular panels and a curvilinear parapet. It was built 85 years ago, as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Depression-era public works effort, the Works Progress Administration.

City officials have, from time to time, broached the idea of using the grandstand as a concert venue.

But its principal use is for demolition derbies, rodeos and motorcycle races during the Columbia County Fair. The Columbia County Fair is overseen by an independent fair board, and is not a function of the county government.

Zirbes said the city should consider asking Columbia County officials about their willingness to assist with improvement or replacement of the grandstand. Hahn said he thinks that discussion should happen sooner rather than later.

In other business, the board approved a change in the memorandum of understanding between the city and the Portage Service Clubs Association which, if approved next week by the Portage Common Council, would clear the way to build a handicapped-accessible restroom next year in Pauquette Park.

The service clubs and the city already have agreed the association will pay the full $320,000 cost for a performing arts pavilion at the park, money that still needs to be raised.

The project was to include accessible restrooms, and the Portage Service Clubs Association will contribute $12,000 to the $45,000 project.

In addition, Kremer said, the Bidwell Foundation will donate $20,000, and the city will contribute $33,000, to expand the existing restrooms to include accessible facilities, and to put on a new roof.

This way, the restrooms can be built right away, even though the money for the pavilion hasn’t all been raised yet, Kremer said. The service clubs association will remain fully responsible for the cost of the pavilion, and of accessible sidewalks leading to the new restrooms.

Follow Lyn Jerde on Twitter @LynJerde or contact her at 608-745-3587.

Portage Daily Register Reporter