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Facilities bond would help repair failing buildings

Buildings at the Polk County Fairgrounds need heavy maintenance.

Photo by Jolene Guzman
Buildings at the Polk County Fairgrounds need heavy maintenance.

DALLAS — Fair Manager Tina Andersen often jokes that parts of the buildings out at the Polk County Fairgrounds are “held together with paint.”

She’s kidding — mostly.

There are some glaring maintenance issues at the fairgrounds and at the county’s complex on Main Street in Dallas, a combination of the county’s historic courthouse and newer addition.

“There are needs, and I see it as the strongest remaining need in the county,” said County Administrator Greg Hansen.

The Polk County Jail is still fairly new and the Academy Building recently had a major remodel, so those buildings should be in good shape, he said.

“This building and the historic building are in much greater need of a facelift and then some,” Hansen said of the courthouse complex during Thursday’s final budget hearing. “Then we have the fairgrounds. You are all aware of the conditions of the buildings out there.”

The county’s $20 million road bond will expire in the 2016-17 fiscal year, so the county is considering asking voters pass a bond for about half the cost to address some of those infrastructure needs. Currently, taxpayers are paying about 52 cents per $1,000 of assessed value on properties for the road bond.

Hansen said, if sent to the voters, the new bond would be for about half as much — between $9 million and $10 million. During a discussion Thursday, budget committee members weighed using the money to build a new facility or maintain existing buildings.

The driver for the conversation was the designation of the Polk County Fairgrounds as an emergency “evacuation center.”

“I guess I have a concern that if you’ve got an emergency evacuation center and the big one hits, you don’t have any buildings at the fairgrounds for an evacuation center,” said Norbert Hartmann, budget committee chairman.

He said if the county is going to say it’s an evacuation center, it should live up to the name and suggested adding a small building on the complex that could withstand a catastrophic earthquake.

“If that truly is the place we can go to besides the jail, we need to have a facility that can provide the support necessary to make that happen,” Hartmann said.

The Polk County Fair Board is looking at a new building, but not just for that purpose and not one that would use bond proceeds, Andersen said.

“We need a bigger building because we are booked to capacity,” she said. “We are turning events away.”

She said the fair board plans for a multiuse facility, but would rely on the Polk County Fair Foundation and grants to build it, not property taxes.

Maintenance for existing buildings at the fairgrounds — that is a different matter.

Andersen said the fairgrounds can’t cover its expenses when building upkeep is factored in. The county will transfer $75,000 to the fair for the most necessary projects in the next fiscal year, but that will just scratch the surface.

“You could sink $1 million and not even blink out there; you could spend $2 million and not even blink,” Hansen said. “The need is there.”

Hansen said as to the designation of the fairgrounds as an “alternate evacuation site,” it has the space for emergency responders to set up, but no buildings that would survive a major earthquake.

“We don’t have anything out there,” he said. “Maybe we quit saying that.”

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