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Tillsonburg Fairground questions

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Do we need the grandstand at the fairgrounds?

Are we prepared to pay for extensive – and expensive – repairs?

What are the options?

All of those questions are on the table for the Town of Tillsonburg, owners of the built-in-1965 structure that was literally fenced off in May and unavailable for the 2013 Tillsonburg Tri-County Agricultural Fair in August.

And they are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Memorial Park, the fairgrounds, or what unofficially could be called the ‘Greater Memorial Park Area.’

Will the poultry barn be demolished, similar to the town-owned horse barn currently being dismantled? Would it be replaced?

Is a horse track necessary without horses on-site?

Depending how those play out, another related question might be asked. Is the relocation of the entire Fair possible? In 1863 the Fair moved to a four-acre site north and west of Ridout Street, then moved to its current 12-acre Memorial Park in 1875.

And what about baseball? Should they move ball diamonds?

What does the fair board want, what do ball user groups want, what do area residents want? What will it cost?

“All of these things are definitely part of the conversation,” said Rick Cox, Director of Parks and Recreation, who’s task is to gather information and report to Council.

Tillsonburg should be asking, he said, ‘what kind of face do we want to present to the world?’

“What kind of opportunities do we want to build over the next 5-10 years? We have the opportunity, I think, to get away from some of the constraints that the legacy of buildings and past activities have in this space.”

In August 2012 Tillsonburg resolved to make a bid for funding from the Community Infrastructure Improvement Fund, but the Memorial Park Revitalization Project application was unsuccessful.

“It was a $2 million project,” said Cox. “You could ask for matching money or ask for one-third of the money depending on how aggressive you wanted to be. The town applied for matching money – asked for $1 million – and if successful would have had to come up with the other $1 million.

“It was a very high level design. It would have torn out the grandstand, torn out the track, relocated the south diamond in between the Kiwanis diamond and Sam Lamb Field, and essentially reconfigured that whole area.

“We would have had to make some hard, fast decisions. Forced to make those decisions.”

Without CIIF funding, however, the same basic questions are still on the table. What do they want to do with the space? What can they afford?

“We have more information now than we did this time last year. We can say, ‘do we want to spend a couple hundred thousand dollars repairing the grandstand…?’ Or do we want to take that off the table and say ‘what could we accomplish with that space?’”

NOT SO GRAND STANDS

Most public facilities, from pools to arenas, have an engineering inspection every five years, said Cox, unless something comes up during the inspection that would prompt an earlier review timeline.

“A five-year engineering inspection is standard. Sometimes they may say ‘it’s okay for now, but we may not want to wait another five years before we look at it again.’”

When hired last year, Cox learned the last grandstand inspection was completed just over eight years ago. So he initiated an inspection.

“At that time (around eight years ago), according to the information I have… the seating area needed some sealing. Water was penetrating the concrete and doing some damage, so it needed to be sealed.”

Some sealing was done, he said, but it was not effective. Cox did not blame anyone, does not blame anyone, accepting ‘what we have, is what we have.’

“Since then, not only did the concrete deteriorate further, but the sealing stuff has essentially failed.”

The lip of the stairs on the south side of the grandstand has crumbled and the hand railing is coming off the wall.

The deck – the aisle across the front of the grandstand – also has issues, as do steps leading up to the deck on both sides.

“I don’t know how long the observation booth has been closed off… a long, long time. And the roof has probably had issues for much longer than five years.

“These inspections have identified problems for a number of cycles that have either been ignored or cautiously chosen not to do anything about, or some combination of that.

“It was just a case of money being prioritized for other things.”

One possible solution, he said, would be to apply a band-aid, in the range of $4,000-$5,000, and get the grandstand through one more fair.

“And then band-aid it again, and band-aid it again, and again…”

The 2013 fair board decided that was not a preferred option and rented portable bleachers for its Saturday night entertainment and Sunday demolition derby.

“There was nothing in the 2013 budget to do the grandstand,” said Cox, who expects to approach Council during the next budget cycle, now in its earliest departmental assembly stage, with the question ‘what do you want to do?’

“Do we let it go another year? How long before we make some decisions?”

Weighing on those decisions is the fact that the hard-working volunteer fair board has limited money. The town has limited money. They are potentially looking at a $200,000 repair tag while the annual list of town priorities, from road repairs to recreational facilities, is not getting any shorter.

“It’s a tough spend for how much it gets used. It’s a really tough spend.”

Cox will give Council a recommendation after consultation with the fair board.

“They (the fair board) will be involved in the process.”

He will also be consulting with the ball user groups this fall, gathering information.

The ownership question was raised at the Town Council meeting on August 12 by Mayor John Lessif – ‘who owns the grandstand?’

Cox, who identified some of the grandstand issues in his Parks and Rec report, replied ‘the town.’

Similar ownership questions came up 20 years ago when the fair board, ball user groups, and town were involved in a dispute over installing lights inside the track.

Today, Cox refers back to a 1983-84 document.

“The agreement we have with the fair board dates back to 1983, I think. There was an agreement, then a revised one that nobody can find the official signed documents. It didn’t really change a lot, but it did change some stuff.

“My reading of it says the town would own the buildings, but the fair board would be responsible for maintenance. That’s the agreement.

“At the end of the day it’s a town facility and we’re responsible and accountable for it.”

Fair-specific property was identified as a parking lot, the poultry barn, grandstand, general office, cattle barn, Crystal Palace, and food booth (next to the office).

In the last couple of years, Cox said efforts were made to reach a new agreement with the fair board and ball groups.

“My understanding was that early last summer it was ‘almost final.’”

However, until the new agreement is 100 per cent finalized, the official legal document for ownership and responsibility of fairground buildings and property goes back to the 1983-84 transaction.

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