County approves contract for designs for new grandstands, considers replacement in time for 2019 fair

County officials are making plans to replace the grandstands at Montana Expo Park.

This week, County Commissioners approved a $18,980 contract to Nelson Architects for designs related to the planned demolition and replacement of the existing grandstands.

Brian Clifton, county public works director, said the existing grandstands have been inspected twice and they are structurally sound for use during this summer’s fair but it’s not safe underneath.

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That’s where the betting windows usually are for horse racing and a dinner during the rodeo.

The plan, according to county officials, is to use the grandstands this year with relocated betting windows and then replace them in time for the 2019 fair.

That’s an estimated $2 million project, according to an email Commissioner Jane Weber sent to the county accounting office while requesting a separate fund be established for the grandstand capital improvements.

Weber said Tuesday’s action on the architect contract wasn’t committing the county to replace the grandstands, but was to ensure the county was in a position to replace them if commissioners decide to do so.

“I think the timing is crucial here,” said Commissioner Jim Larson since the county didn’t have time to fix the problem for this year’s fair.

Clifton said they want to have designs and figure out the most cost-effective plan to replace the grandstands.

Included in the contract with Nelson is: working with bleacher supplierĀ on size and placement of new bleachers; code study of new layout; examine shop drawings and structural requirements from bleacher submittals; site plan showing demo conditions and new conditions; work with county’s environmental testing report to develop demo plan; work with county’s utility survey to establish best foundation locations; civil engineering design to connect existing area drain to existing storm sewer main; work with county’s geotechnical report to develop foundation ideas to support bleacher loads as supplied by bleacher supplier; redesign existing pole lights to receive LED replacement heads; lower pole as appropriate for chosen light, design bracket to support new light heads; provide bidding and negotiation services for project; provide construction administration.

Weber said the concrete pieces falling underneath the grandstands have changed operations and will continue to be a problem if not addressed.

The grandstands are about 85 years old and are an important structure for events at the fairgrounds.

The county is also working with the Tourism Business Improvement District on an infrastructure study for upgrades at the fairgrounds.

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Commissioner Joe Briggs said there have been several studies that looked at options for selling the existing facility and building a new one further from the center of town. Briggs said the community response wasn’t favorable to those options.

Briggs said the seats are also starting to fail and though it’s not a safety issue yet, it’s costing the county more in time and resources for maintenance.

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Commissioner Jim Larson took issue with comments from Ryan Villines, an applicant for the zoning board who is suing the county over those board appointments. Villines said the fair was declining and Larson said the last few years have been successful.

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“The fair isn’t diminishing,” Larson said.

Ticket sales opened April 6 for the night entertainment and Weber said so far, sales were strong.

Commissioners also approved the establishment of a separate fund for the capital improvements of the grandstand and transferred $10,000 into the account from the general fund.