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Planning For Its Future

RICKREALL -- Polk County Fairgrounds & Event Center Manager Tina Andersen always has a tape measure handy.

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Polk County Fairgrounds & Event Center Manager Tina Andersen in front of the facility's main building Friday. The Polk County fair board has hired an architect to redesign the fairgrounds, which could include moving buildings and purchasing more land to add to the site.

RICKREALL -- Polk County Fairgrounds & Event Center Manager Tina Andersen always has a tape measure handy.

It's a common sight at the Polk County Fairgrounds & Event Center to see Andersen or other employees somewhere on the grounds measuring to make sure there is space for an incoming exhibit.

"Every event it's like a nail biter -- are we going to fit everything in?" Andersen said. "I don't know how many times I've been sitting out in the middle of the playground wondering how are we going to make this work? You have to be creative to work here and have a sense of humor."

If the long-range plans the Polk County Fair Board has for the site come to fruition, that may be a less frequent part of Andersen's job.

The fair board has hired an architect to redesign the fairgrounds, moving buildings, adding new facilities, and opening up more space on the 20-acre site.

The redesign may be coupled with the purchase of additional land east of the fairgrounds for parking.

"We are outgrowing ourselves," Andersen said. "We've talked about this for years, but if we are going to survive, we have to move into the future. We are putting together what we see as our future at the fairgrounds."

Part of the vision plan is moving and constructing a new 4-H building that's larger and includes a commercial kitchen for Polk County Extension or others who may need such a facility.

"When you talk to community leaders about what is needed, a commercial kitchen always comes up," Andersen said.

The main building at the fairgrounds has a commercial kitchen, but between kitchen rentals and other events at the facility, it is usually booked.

Also included is a new building to house the fair and Polk County Extension offices, and perhaps other agencies. A long-awaited Master Gardeners demonstration garden will be drawn in as well.

The architect for the project, Portland-based LRS Architects, specializes in redesigning fairground facilities. Andersen said she and the board members were impressed with the ideas the firm came up with on the first meeting. Andersen said moving some of the current facilities will allow for bigger entertainment stages, perhaps an additional arena, and smoother traffic flow.

"That opens up so many possibilities," she said, adding the plans would be designed to allow for future growth.

The final design will be completed the second week of July and the fair board is planning to unveil it to the community at the Polk County Fair Aug. 9-12. Andersen said the board is hoping for feedback.

"We are really excited," Andersen said. "We want to know what people are thinking."

Andersen noted that having a building plan for the future likely will help the Polk County Fair Foundation raise money for improvements, as well as help the fair secure grants and other funding for the project. The fair board is already looking into grants for the 4-H building and discussions on the new Fair/Extension office are already under way.

"Nobody wants to give you money if you don't have a plan," Andersen said.

She said more serious discussions on plans for funding will happen once the board has heard public input.

Andersen believes what is on the drawing board now is realistic, both in terms of cost and year-round use. None of the proposed facilities would be sitting empty all year after the annual fair, she said.

"At least I know that we can fill these buildings," Andersen said.

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