Fair barn forum drives public discussion

By Ryan Carpe rcarpe@civitasmedia.com

February 2, 2014

DARKE COUNTY – The Darke County Agricultural Society held an open forum on Thursday to gather public opinion about the future of the beef and dairy cattle exhibition building.

A fire that took place on the evening of Dec. 20 destroyed the Darke County Fairgrounds Beef and Dairy Palaces. Attendees were issued an update that the State Fire Marshall’s Office investigation was ongoing and they had yet to reach a conclusion as to the cause.

But in the interim period, members of the fair board facilitated the open forum so that both fair attendees and participants could provide feedback and rumors could be addressed surrounding the placement and construction of new facilities.

More than a hundred attendees came to the Junior Fair building in order to talk about the incoming project, and they ranged from long-serving 4-H advisors to 60-year fair attendees.

Speakers were provided three minutes in which to speak, and Fair Manager Daryl Riffle served as the moderator to allow everyone a chance to speak.

Chief among the topics was the possible relocation of the Beef and Dairy Palaces due to the congestion caused during busy periods of fair operation.

“I believe it is best to keep the new barn in the current location because of the safety and logistic issues for the junior fair kids who participant in other animal and 4-H projects at the north end of the fairgrounds,” said Bob Finkbine. “Also, moving the beef barn to the south end would make it almost impossible for families with children who have other projects beside cattle to help one another, as well as to see their family members show and demonstrate their projects.”

Dr. Michael Fourman representing the Darke County Junior Fair Sale Committee also said that the livestock buildings should remain at the north end due to many exhibitors showing multiple animals within close proximity. He also stated the closeness of the junior fair building, and the potential for exhibitors and judges to use networked computers to keep track of the fair results should be considered.

“From the viewpoint of the livestock sales it would be best for all the exhibitors to be centrally located rather than at opposite ends of the fairgrounds,” he said.

Gary Goettemoeller representing the Beef Committee agreed, stating that while staying in the original footprint of the building, the beef and dairy cattle livestock buildings could be expanded to six aisles of cattle or 12 rows.

“If we were able to do that we could utilize the building in other uses by putting removable columns so that it could be used for other venues,” he said. “Our challenge to the fair board is to build something that will accommodate us now and 50 to 100 years from now.”

However, some attendees argued that the overwhelming congestion outweighed the need for the livestock facilities to stay on the north end.

“If the fair continues to grow, then somebody isn’t going to get a parking pass,” said one speaker. “It’s a great struggle to separate one part of the cattle, but we are totally out of room.”

“Our show arena is a heck of a lot nicer facility than some state fairs. We’re pumped about the recently built bathrooms and the new electricity upgrades,” said another attendee who argued that the livestock facilities should stay put. “We’ve got a really nice area and I think you can understand that we don’t want to leave.”

Another fairgoer suggested that a very practical livestock building should be the top priority, and that excessive updates and improvements may lead to a delay in the construction of a new building for the 2014 fair.

The solution of rotating livestock exhibitors was also addressed by several attendees, who felt that it would detract from the young adults who regularly devote large amounts of time to their projects.

“I hear talk of doing some rotating in and out of the fair for the beef and dairy kids,” said Jason Manning. “I think one thing to consider is that many of those kids work with these projects year round or multiple years. If it’s not possible to get the barn built by the fair, I would like to consider that we put up temporary structures and let these kids enjoy a normal fair week.”

“As a fair lover, I would just like to share my concern that we are here for the kids, who work all year round,” said Tia Grilliot. “I just want it to be fair to them. Build the facility that we need at the north end. Obviously I’m not a construction worker, but I feel that there should be something built this year, a structure so that we can have the fair here that we need. Don’t short these kids (by rotating). 10 days isn’t enough as it is.”

But above all, each attendee stressed the importance of prioritizing the junior fair members and their needs, while retaining the history and legacy of the Great Darke County Fair.

“I just want to always keep the people and kids in mind,” said one attendee. “For 10 days out of the year, its a wonderful fair. I think it’s the greatest county fair in the world.”

The meeting closed as Darke County Fair Board President Richard Delk assured the audience that their suggestions would be considered and discussed in the upcoming days, and thanked the attendees for their dedication and concern for the fair.

“I just want to thank all of you who came,” said Fair Board Member Velma Campbell. “I told the junior fair kids earlier what great kids they are and how many compliments we receive for the jobs they do at the fair. And I think now I totally understand why. Because they have parents that are interested and that come out to find out what’s going on. And I appreciate that. Thanks.”