Exhibit hall at county Fairgrounds deemed unsafe, report finds
The Washington County Fair Complex's main expo hall, as well as a handful of other structures on the fairgrounds campus in central Hillsboro have closed permanently, after routine inspections this month revealed the buildings were a danger to the public.
According to Washington County officials, the fairground's main exhibit hall was closed Feb. 13 after an engineering assessment of the fairgrounds found the 24,000-square-foot structure were unsafe. The county also closed a milking station and a restroom on the fairgrounds, as well as a sheep barn.
According to the findings, the buildings were a "severe life-safety hazard to the public," said Lisa DuPré, the fair's marketing and events coordinator.
"After hearing that, everyone agreed all four buildings should be closed immediately," she said. "We had a responsibility to close it down, once we knew the risks."
The closures were first reported by The Oregonian newspaper.
Engineers were so concerned about the condition of the structures they sent an early version of the report to county personnel, DuPré said. The full report is expected Friday, DuPré said.
"What they found was serious enough they felt they couldn't wait," DuPré said. "They wanted to get it out right away."
The cinderblock exhibit hall was constructed in 1952, and fairgrounds officials have known for years that the facility was in need of repairs. Officials were told in the past the exhibit hall may not be able to last through a heavy storm, such as the infamous Columbus Day Storm in 1962.
"But this time, they said that the building could come down on any day, for any reason," DuPré said. "It was structurally unsound enough that it could drop at any time."
Washington County has been planning a new exhibit hall for years, and plans to break ground on a new building later this year. The new $46 million event center won't be finished until 2020. When it opens, the center will be much larger than the current exhibition hall, according to the county. Plans call for a 92,500-square-foot event space.
"We had hoped we'd be able to keep the exhibit hall until the new space was ready, and we could move straight from one to the other," DuPré said. "Unfortunately, that's not what happened."
The closures come six months before the 2018 Washington County Fair, set for July 26-29. The four-day festival draws hundreds of thousands of visitors every year and is one of Washington County's largest annual attractions.
DuPré said the Fair will not be delayed because of the closures.
"Luckily, we have time to figure it out where to put the booths that planned to be in that space," DuPré said. "Our goal is to minimize the impact on the fair. We're working with representatives from 4-H to ensure the kids will have good experience when they present their projects. Rest assured, the fair is still happening."
The exhibit hall is used year-round for events. Officials at the fairgrounds have had to move several shows scheduled at the event space over the next few months, including last weekend's Collectors West Gun & Knife Show planned for the exhibit hall. That show was moved to the Hillsboro Armory, 848 N.E. 28th Ave., on the fairgrounds' western edge.
"Nobody wants to be an event facility that has to do this," DuPré said. "Thankfully, everyone has been great."
The Tualatin Valley Gem Club's 60th annual Rock & Mineral Show, planned for March 9, 10 and 11, has moved to the Forest Grove Armory, 2950 Taylor Way.
DuPré said 13 organizations had rented out the space through the summer, and another half-dozen had plans to use the space after the July county fair.
In total, DuPré said, the fairgrounds faces about $90,000 in lost revenue from the closures, but said the saved costs from running the building will help offset some of the loss.
"It was not efficient to heat that building," she said. "So we could have some savings on that side."
The last time the fairgrounds inspected its buildings in 2008, the county removed several other aging buildings, DuPré said.
"This isn't just a Washington County issue," DuPré said. "Across the country, fairgrounds are facing issues about how to afford repairs to aging buildings."
By Geoff Pursinger
Editor, Hillsboro Tribune
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