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Crowded barns and displays fuel rationale for new fairgrounds

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With hundreds of 4-H%u2019ers completing projects in more than 60 categories, the 4-H Exhibit Hall is packed with their completed work. Visitors are advised to look up: Some projects are even hung from the ceiling.

(Tom Russo / Daily Reporter)
With hundreds of 4-H%u2019ers completing projects in more than 60 categories, the 4-H Exhibit Hall is packed with their completed work. Visitors are advised to look up: Some projects are even hung from the ceiling. (Tom Russo / Daily Reporter)

GREENFIELD — If there’s any doubt the Hancock County 4-H Fairgrounds has maxed out on space, one need only visit the Exhibition Hall, say those who try to stack and cram projects into the area as the number of pictures and poster boards continues to increase.

“It takes a lot of planning to get it all in,” said Darrin Couch, Hancock County 4-H Agricultural Association vice president. “Without much space, we’ve got things hanging from the rafters.”

The overflow of exhibits is a metaphor for the current state of the fairgrounds, some say.

“Our programs are not waning,” Couch said. “They continue to grow, and we’re running out of buildings.”

Many, but not all, of those who show, work and live near the barns and stalls for a week at the fairgrounds say it’s time to consider expanding, improving and moving on.

A move last year to build a new covered multipurpose show arena on the fairgrounds’ northwest corner has recently morphed into renewed interest in building an entirely new fairgrounds on 200 acres of county-owned farmland north of U.S. 40 between CRs 400E and 500E.

Late last year, a collective of government, civic and agriculture stakeholders decided to put the proposal in play after a similar plan was shelved 10 years ago.

In April, county commissioners agreed in principle to move forward with plans for building what proponents are currently calling “XPLEX.” It would include a new county fairgrounds, a conference center and an enclosed livestock arena with an attached 150-stall barn.

On July 9, a steering committee will interview several consulting firms that answered requests for proposals ahead of selecting one to devise a master plan, said Greenfield Utilities Director Mike Fruth.

“The committee received about a half-dozen proposals, and that has been narrowed to three that will be reviewed at the next meeting,” Fruth said.

Once selected and given permission to proceed, the consultants will begin meeting with all stakeholders to come up with a “space-needs” analysis.

The lack of space is the underlying condition that spawns a host of symptoms, people at the fairgrounds say.

Earlier this week, 13-year-old Madison Clutinger learned what it’s like to prepare several hundred pounds of show beef next to a persnickety, mischievous llama at the same wash rack.

It was a handful.

Between Madison and her brother, Austin, the Clutinger family has been bringing its livestock to the 4-H fair for the past nine years, and they say they could use a little more room.

Sitting under a pop-up tent behind their fair cattle stall Thursday, Madison said it would be nice to have everything under one roof with enough room to keep her tack box nearby at all times.

It’s a sentiment heard with some frequency in the barns and halls of the Hancock County 4-H Fairgrounds.

“I’m all for it,” said Bud Wesley, who’s been coming to the fair “all my life,” and continues to show animals with his kids and provide animals for those without them to participate in 4-H.

“We’ve outgrown this fairground 20 or 30 years ago,” he said.

Wesley is among those who say a new facility will alleviate the tricky logistics of moving animals in and out to accommodate the various show schedules. Wesley said a new fairgrounds could bring some extra money to the county as well.

“It would be a tremendous source of revenue with all the options it could provide – conferences, tractor pulls and shows,” Wesley said.

A new parking lot wouldn’t hurt, either, some say.

Walking up from the south lot Thursday, Mark Warren was heading to the 4-H Sheep Show, where his family has been entered for the past seven years. Slogging through the muddy ruts left by vehicles after Wednesday night’s rain reminded Warren of some other work he did at the fair.

“About five years ago, I worked for a towing company, and we were down there for hours towing people out,” he said. “I felt bad charging them; it wasn’t their fault.”

The northwest corner of the fairgrounds lies in the Brandywine Creek flood plain, a condition that required early proponents of a covered show arena there to devise a work-around for drainage.

The low-lying area became a quagmire as fairgoers left Wednesday, with some getting stuck in the mud.

Last Friday’s rain also bumped some of this year’s Horse & Pony Show competitions because the Multipurpose Arena couldn’t be adequately prepared, said Barb Pescitelli, 4-H superintendent.

With last year’s move for a covered horse and livestock arena serving as the catalyst for current relocation efforts, Pescitelli said the mood is different.

“This time around, there’s lots of community support outside the intimate family of those related to the fair,” she said.

“I think it’s exciting, and I’m excited about discussing the possibility,” said Roy Ballard, Purdue extension educator for Hancock County.

The crux of the matter is that the current location is landlocked and out of room. It simply can’t accommodate much more in terms of improvement or expansion to address the symptoms and issues that have been raised.

In order to kick the operation up a notch, there needs to be some growing space.

“In order to have a world-class facility, you’re going to have to use up some real estate,” he said.

“It’s not life or death,” Ballard said. “But if you want economic development, a covered arena and a first-class facility – nothing against anybody or anything – but it’s just not going to happen here with the limitations.”

The urge to move, however, is not a universal sentiment.

“I think we have some really great facilities here,” said Trent Heller, who between his daughter and sons has been showing livestock at the fair for nearly 24 years. “I think we have one of the best county fairs in the area, and my concern is (once the fair moves) how long will it take to get these facilities back to where we have them now?”

For others, it’s a matter of keeping priorities and a focus on what the fair is all about in the first place.

“A kid can have as much fun here as they can in a new barn,” said John Hancock, as his daughters dealt cards on a foot locker waiting to show Thursday. “It’s supposed to be about the kids, anyway.”

If anyone has a perspective on the existing fairgrounds, Hancock would have to be named among them.

“I haven’t missed a fair in 39 years,” he said. “I was 2 months old when I came to my first one.”

“We realize there’s lots of history here,” Couch said. “There are third-, fourth- and fifth-generation families that are coming here.

“But our extension office does a tremendous job to continually grow the program, and we really need to expand,” Couch said.

With the varying opinions and an impact that will affect not only the ag community but the county as a whole, a barn-full of questions and issues will have to be addressed to the county’s collective satisfaction as the proposal moves forward.

“This is not a fairgrounds project, this is a community project,” Couch said.

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