Parks and Fair Dept. responds to horse barn comments

Submitted by San Juan County Parks and Fair Department

The memories of past fairs are held dear as new ones are created each August; this is not to be disregarded, as that is the magic of fair. At times, these memories are associated with a fairgrounds structure like the horse barn, and that is why an article was published on Feb. 9 asking the community to send horse barn memorabilia to the San Juan County Parks and Fair Department. The department would like to memorialize the structure and the history it has held as they move forward with dismantling the old barn to make way for program changes. This article is written in response to the publication of a March 1 social media petition that includes over 100 signatures, asking the department to reconsider the project and save the barn.

It is the responsibility of the Parks and Fair Department to ensure the fairgrounds’ sustainability over time. Its crowning event is the annual county fair, but the fairgrounds is much more than just the fair; it is a year-round multi-purpose facility that provides a safe venue for year-round programming for a wide variety of community organizations and activities for young and old. The barn deconstruction is part of a larger project that is designed to better serve the needs of horse programming and to provide a multi-purpose year-round space that serves the community at large. Revenues from year-round services in each facility help to support their maintenance and operation and the production of the fair.

A discussion about the safety of participants and animals using the horse barn, event flow, participant satisfaction and fairgrounds sustainability began in public meetings during the fairgrounds master plan development process in 2011. The county council adopted a fairgrounds master plan in 2012 that included removing the south end of the horse barn and earmarked funding in the county’s 2018 capital improvement plan.

The current project includes two phases. The first phase includes deconstructing the horse barn (including re-purposing as much materials as possible), purchasing high-quality mobile stalls, and creating a level area with utilities and water.

The funding for phase one is through the Washington State Department of Agriculture Health and Safety grant program and county real estate excise tax funds with a completion deadline of next June.

The second phase includes evaluating a permanent multipurpose facility design that works for both the horse program and year-round use and build it. This work will coincide with the update of the fairgrounds master plan, this fall, and is not yet funded.

The project has been up for discussion since 2015, through press releases for new barn input, a survey regarding horse activity at the fairgrounds, grant submission to the WSDA Fairs Health and Safety program, creation of a horse barn subcommittee to the fair board, and presentations to county council requesting acceptance of WSDA grant award and to approve the project. Once the project was approved, pledge efforts began at the 2016 fair, via verbal announcements during horse classes, a display in the horse barn, and sponsorships from the mounted posse soccer game.

The department continues to consult with staff, volunteers, the public, horse program participants, structural engineers and rehabilitation planners. The requirement to bring the facility up to current building codes was a necessity with the intent of expanded use of the structure, making it very costly. In conjunction to addressing horse programming requests around health and safety and American with Disabilities Act accessibility issues, the year-round concerns of vandalism, drug use, homeless housing and illicit conduct that occur in the horse barn are also being undertaken.

The fairgrounds, fair and its facilities have undergone many changes over the years. Transitions and improvements are being made to better manage this county facility’s future to benefit the county as a whole.

Interested in more information or to provide input on the horse program facility project? Contact Fairgrounds and Events Manager Jennifer Allen at info@sjcfair.org or 378-4310.