EATON — The Preble County Fairgrounds has a new look after an $875,000 facelift overseen by county commissioners, the County Engineer’s Office, and the City of Eaton.
Grant money from the state was heavily utilized for the work, recently completed after beginning last fall. Renovations included major work on the grandstands, new paint and roof work for all but three buildings on site, demolition and replacement of the public restroom building, and a major repaving of the entire fairgrounds.
“When we were in the early stages with this grant money,” said county commissioner Rodney Creech, “there were three things we focused on. The first was safety, the second was economic development, and the third was aesthetics. We tried to come through everything where we saw safety risks, and we started there. For example, most of the money went to fixing up the grandstands. It would take a lot of money to replace those, so our goal was to reinforce it and keep it in shape. The beams were rusting, and those were replaced, and they painted the roof and the structure. The work on that alone took months, and they just finished it last month.”
“The bathrooms were plumb disgusting,” he said. “Nobody wanted to use them. People would walk all the way across the fairgrounds to use another one. The new bathroom building is my favorite improvement. The whole building is new. They ripped out the old concrete, put in new concrete, new stalls, everything. And it’s ADA compliant. Roughly $70,000 was spent on that, and we’re very happy with it.”
Old barns on the property went unused for years because they appeared unsafe, Creech said, when in fact the buildings were structurally sound but badly weathered.
“We went through the proper channels and made sure they were in solid shape,” he said. “You don’t want to put $15 or $20,000 into a building and then tear it down a few years later. But, if an old building is still sound, it’s cheaper to make it look good than to replace it. Now we have horses in the barns, and we’re generating revenue from them.”
The restoration of the ticket booth at the entrance has garnered major positive feedback since its completion two weeks ago, said Creech. Some $10,000 in county dollars were used to bring it back into shape, along with the help of several local volunteers and a roofing donation from Sherriff-Goslin Roofing of Richmond, Indiana.
The newly paved roads were a major effort. Neglected for many years, they made driving through the fairgrounds a difficult and sometimes hazardous experience for area citizens. The main road that travels through the property is considered a county road, so funds for its repaving were contributed by the county commission ($100,256.91), the county engineer ($132,737.19), and the City of Eaton ($238,650.11).
“That’s definitely the biggest improvement,” Creech said of the repaving. “The county engineer, Kyle Cross, really stepped up and helped out, and out of a quarter million dollar project, he covered almost half of it. We would never have been able to do it without him coming in and helping us like that.”
The fairgrounds is comprised of six parcels totaling 112.4 acres, with the main portion sitting on 50 acres. More work is planned for the property. Another $400,000 in new state grant money will allow the installation of bathrooms, showers, and possibly meeting rooms in the Expo Center. The small sheriff’s building will be razed, with the county and sheriff’s office collaborating on ideas for replacement. Two buildings near the entrance, in less sturdy shape than the other structures, were not renovated; commissioners are still working to determine whether they will be restored or removed. Creech said commissioners also hope to sell annual sponsorships for each of the structures on the fairgrounds, with each building sporting the name of a different area business.
“We’ve already gotten a lot of calls from people who can’t believe how much better it looks,” he said. “A year ago, none of this looked anywhere near this good.”
“The fairgrounds is the heartbeat of Preble County,” he said. “It means so much to the people here, and we wanted to make sure we got this right.”
Reach Duante Beddingfield at 937-683-4061 or on Twitter @duanteb_RH.