181214_FAIR

This drone photo shows the Rock County 4-H Fairgrounds from above during the 2017 Rock County 4-H Fair in Janesville.

JANESVILLE

Rock County officials are proposing millions of dollars in upgrades to the Rock County 4-H Fairgrounds in an attempt to modernize the site and make it more efficient.

Among the recommendations are a new 12,000-square-foot Craig Center, food pavilions, additional parking and a noncombustible grandstand. The total cost for all combined upgrades is $14.3 million.

About 25 residents braved slippery roads Tuesday night for a presentation on the proposals at the current Craig Center. The fairground proposals are detailed in the county’s facilities master plan, which was unveiled in September and recommends a host of facility upgrades to multiple Rock County buildings.

The Janesville Plan Commission must host a public hearing and issue conditional-use permits before any changes can happen at the fairgrounds, city of Janesville planning director Duane Cherek said.

Brent Sutherland, director of facilities management for Rock County, said the county is likely to present the proposed changes to the plan commission by the end of February or early March.

John Sabinash, a representative with Venture Architects, the company that drafted the master plan, said the upgrades are separated into four phases. The first includes building a 12,000-square-foot Craig Center and restroom facility estimated to cost $5.5 million.

The building would be located on the southeast side of the fairgrounds and would be air conditioned, provide exhibition space and have a dedicated parking lot with about 85 spaces. The current, 8,000-square-foot Craig Center would be used for storage.

The second phase would include building food pavilions near the new Craig Center for about $2.2 million. Sabinash said the pavilions could house food trucks and food vendors, and its location could be flexible.

Step three would be demolishing the existing wooden grandstand, which Sabinash said is a liability. A noncombustible grandstand would be built for $4.8 million, and the location would shift slightly and face the east side of the fairgrounds. That configuration would enlarge the size of the main stage area and diversify its use, Sabinash said.

The fourth component is building a more efficient parking layout in the fairgrounds. This would include adding parking near the Blackhawk Center and existing Craig Center and reorganizing parking on the northwest side of the fairgrounds.

Sabinash said the midway area would remain on the northwest side of the fairgrounds.

A new Craig Center could help defray costs through rental and exhibition opportunities, Sabinash said.

Officials made clear from the start of the meeting that there would be no discussion about moving the fairgrounds.

“Our course is set for remaining here,” Rock County Board member Richard Bostwick said.

Fair Association Board President Randy Thompson, who oversees the Rock County 4-H Fair, said the fair association is “very interested” in the facilities master plan upgrades.

“We’ve come to a crossroads, from my perspective,” Thompson said.

The association realizes the limitations of the fairgrounds, such as being landlocked and having limited parking available, Thompson said.

Any changes to the fairgrounds must be approved by the Rock County Board, Sutherland said. The county is still prioritizing needed countywide upgrades, and changes at the fairgrounds recommended in the master plan would be part of some other facility projects in the county.

Sutherland said a new farm bureau building, which was donated to the county, will be constructed at the fairgrounds this year. He expects all master plan projects to be completed in eight years.

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