CIRCLEVILLE — Just a month ago, the Pickaway County Fairgrounds were bustling with people slurping fresh-squeezed lemonade, munching on funnel cakes and watching 4-H kids lead their prized pigs across livestock barns.
Now, the fairgrounds look like a tornado tore through it. Half-demolished buildings and piles of scrap metal and cinderblock litter the grounds.
In order to make way for seven new buildings and facilities, Pickaway County is making an unusual effort to scrap almost everything for a completely new fairground. Demolition began this month and is slated to be completed at the end of July.
The 60-acre site, owned by the county and located in southeastern Circleville, has been long overdue for new buildings. Renovations aren’t sufficient, said Commissioner Harold “Champ” Henson. The existing buildings were old and poorly maintained with defects, including unsafe electrical wiring and water leaks.
The $13 million project has been in the works for about three years. The initial proposal was met with a “lukewarm” reaction, Henson said, because the county had been promising new fairgrounds for going on 10 years.
But now that the county is following through, there’s a lot of excitement and anticipation, Commissioner Jay Wippel said. Shovels hit the dirt at a groundbreaking ceremony the last day of the fair June 23.
Tensions were high last year between commissioners, the fair board and a nonprofit group called Pickaway Sportsman Inc. — which had been raising money for a decade with the intent to build a new indoor show arena and multipurpose building. The county and sportsman organization butted heads on issues such as control of the design, specific location on the grounds of certain buildings and naming rights. The group, which was largely made up of fair board members, said they would not help pay for the arenas and barns the commissioners approved. The county decided to pursue their plans regardless.
A shakeup in recent fair board elections brought in a new president — Von Cremeans — and several new members.
“A great deal of our success has been working with the new fair board,” Henson said. “They’ve been more than easy to work with and very cooperative.
County residents seem pleased by the upgrades, Henson said, since they understand the importance of the agriculture industry in a county that boasts a booming 4-H program and four FFA chapters. In addition to new features such as an amphitheater, there will be new livestock barns and an agricultural hall of fame.
“Agriculture is the number one industry in Pickaway County,” Cremeans said. “The community is really excited, and they’re getting more excited now that things are actually happening.”
So far, local businesses have pitched in about $2 million. The county hopes fundraising efforts will cover $5 million of the total $13 million cost. Demolition is being completed at no cost to the county. Darby Creek Excavating Inc., of Circleville, donated labor to demolish six structures. Those should be done within the next couple of weeks. The coliseum will be demolished in January.
Commissioners said the new fairgrounds facilities also will be a boost to the local economy because of the potential to rent out space for events, such as rodeos, boat shows and wedding receptions.
Construction of new buildings is expected to begin in October and will be completed in time for the next county fair, which is scheduled June 15-22, 2019.
Originally published in The Columbus Dispatch on July 27, 2018.