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County board approves plan, with event center expected to be complete in 2020.

STAFF PHOTO: CHRIS OERTELL - The main exhibit hall at the Washington County Fair Complex will be torn down this year. Professional architects attested that the building is in an unsafe condition, and the county had already been planning to build a larger new facility on-site.The Washington County Fair Complex's main exhibit hall will be torn down this year after county officials closed it and several other buildings after a report said they posed a severe safety risk to the public.

County Commissioners approved a plan Tuesday, March 6, which calls for the fairground's exhibit hall to be removed and three other buildings — the fair complex's sheep barn, a milking parlor and a restroom — to be repaired or replaced.

"This is a pretty important decision," board Chairman Andy Duyck told the crowd last week.

By removing the 24,000-square-foot building immediately, board members said they hope to give staff at the Fair Complex as much time as possible to clear the area for safe usage during the Washington County Fair, which kicks off in July.

Sid Scott, principal of Scott-Edwards Architecture and Jeff Fitch, principal owner of SFA Design Group, told comissioners the condition of the main exhibit was the largest cause for concern.

"Our take on it is that we have seismic issues," Scott said after visiting the buildings. "It's got snow-loading and wind-loading issues, it's got constructability issues from repairs that were made ... and it is overstressed as it just stands there. That was where we came to our conclusion that we felt it was not a safe building."

In other words, Commissioner Bob Terry said, "what you are saying is that if a strong wind came along, the people in the building, they would be in jeopardy."

"Correct," replied Scott.

While the removal of the exhibit hall is set, the milking parlor, sheep barn and restrooms will need to be inspected in order to accurately determine whether each is repairable or not, commissioners said.

"In the meantime, I don't want to take the (sheep barn) building down just because it looks like it might be bad, so it would be nice to have definitive answers," said Commissioner Greg Malinowski.

The board hopes to have these reports in time for its next board meeting March 20.

"I'm a lover of the fair. I love barns and I hate to see them taken down without a good reason," Duyck said.

A committee of county commissioners, Fair Board members and various other stakeholders unanimously recommended the combined approach of removal and repairs earlier this month.

County fair won't be impacted

The closures come six months before the 2018 Washington County Fair, set for July 26 to July 29. The four-day festival draws hundreds of thousands of visitors every year and is one of Washington County's largest annual attractions.

"We have kicked into high gear to plan for the fair and help ensure that these changes cause minimal disruption to our partners and the public," said Fair Complex Manager Leah Perkins-Hagele. "We appreciate the patience and support we have been shown by our event promoters and users of the Fair Complex as we work through this process." 

Not all community members are convinced taking any of the buildings down is necessary. Lyle Spiesschaert, treasurer for the Fair Boosters, questioned the reports finding.

"I'm not convinced that these buildings are life-safety hazards," Spiesschaert said. "And if they are, you have to ask the question, how did they get that way? Why have they not been maintained?"

Spiesschaert's family has been involved in the fairgrounds for many years. He served on the fair board for two terms.

Spiesschaert said a lack of transparency with the fair complex has left him and others frustrated.

"Trust me, I'm not the only person in the community who feels that way," he said. "I'm one of the few that hasn't given up on it."

A decade ago, the fair complex removed a handful of other buildings after similar safety concerns were raised.

New events center slated for 2020

Lisa DuPré, the fair's marketing and events coordinator, told Pamplin Media Group last week the county fair will not be delayed because of the closures.

"Luckily, we have time to figure it out where to put the booths that planned to be in that space," DuPré said. "Our goal is to minimize the impact on the fair. We're working with representatives from 4-H to ensure the kids will have good experience when they present their projects. Rest assured, the fair is still happening."

DuPré said 13 organizations had rented out the main exhibit hall through the summer, and another half-dozen had plans to use the space after the July county fair.

In total, DuPré said, the fairgrounds faces about $90,000 in lost revenue from the closures.

Washington County has been planning a new exhibit hall for years. Plans call for the county to break ground on a new building later this year

When it opens, the center will be much larger than the current exhibition hall, according to the county, with a 92,500-square-foot event space that dwarfs the exhibit hall.

The new $46 million event center won't be finished until 2020.

Spiesschaert worries that demand at the center will push out groups that have used the old exhibit hall in the past, who won't be able to afford renting out the new event center.

"I'm not against building an event center. But at the expense of all of our community uses, I think it's really troubling," he said.

Spiesschaert described the changes as "heartbreaking."

"Our fairgrounds is not open and inviting and welcoming anymore," he said.

Spiesschaert said he believes a new event center could be built while still maintaining the original, smaller buildings for community groups.

"We can have it all," he argued.



By Olivia Singer
Reporter, Forest Grove News-Times and Hillsboro Tribune
503-357-3181
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Follow Olivia at @oliviasingerr
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