Commissioners and board members squabble over renovation of dilapidated fairgrounds

The debate over how and when to fix barns at the Pickaway County Farigrounds has kept the buildings in poor condition. (WSYX/WTTE)

Everybody seems to agree the buildings at the Pickaway County Fairgrounds need to be torn down and replaced. But the Pickaway County Commissioners and the Fair Board can't seem to agree on how to do it.

Craig Weiler has been a farmer all his life.

"We grew up doing 4-H," said Weiler.

Now Weiler's two boys showed prized pigs at this year's Pickaway County Fair.

"One boy got first and second, I believe, and one boy got first and third. And my youngest son, first year 4-H, got Reserve Grand Champion overall with his pig."

The ribbons and trophies put a smile on Weiler's face, but he was stunned at what happened when a storm hit the fairgrounds.

"I was walking through the barn, bringing the pick back in the tent to the bar and water just let loose inside the bar," he said.

Weiler hit "record" on his phone and recorded a river of water running throughout the pig barn. Water was raining down inside from the roof. It was more than a mess.

"It was more dangerous with livestock in the barn and the kids and the people around them because you gotta deal with electricity," said Weiler.

The building's at the Pickaway County Fairgrounds are nearly 70 years old. The structures have rotting wood on the beams, peeling paint outside, and rusty light fixtures. And when a storm hits, rain pours in.

"The rabbit barn, the goat barn, horse barn, every barn had water in them," he said.

Pickaway County Commissioners know the fairgrounds are an eyesore. While the county owns the buildings, it's the Fair Board that maintains the property.

In recent years the Fair Board has had fundraisers, generating $900,000. It's sitting in a bank, while board members and commissioners wrestle with competing ideas.

Commissioners proudly show new drawings of a state-of-the-art facility. President Brian Stewart said they are going to build the new fairgrounds with or without the Fair Board's blessing.

"For six months we've been negotiating with this group. We said we'll change the building how you want it to look. Put your name on it. They don't want to participate in this plan, take their $900,000 and do who-knows-what," he said.

Fair Board director Mike Rittinger says the commissioners want the board's $900,000 but won't let them have input on what will happen to the fairgrounds. He says the commissioners won't listen to the board members and he questions whether the multi-million dollar plan is the right fit for the community.

"One week a year for a $2.5 million building just isn't gonna work," said Rittinger. "That's where the stumbling block is. I don't know if it's an ego trip or what. That's the problem."

Stewart says the plan is to make the fairgrounds a year-round facility.

"We've got a plan for a multi-purpose building. We've got a plan for an amphitheater, We've got a plan to look at the whole grounds. But the priority needs to be the kids," he said.

As the squabbling between the commissioners and board members continues, 4-H parents like Weiler can only wait for something to happen.

Commissioners insist the project will be paid for with money that's already been set aside. They say there will be no additional costs to homeowners.

The new buildings should be done by the summer of 2019.

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