County weighs options for replacing fairgrounds pole barn

Published: Monday, January 14, 2013 at 8:38 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 14, 2013 at 8:38 p.m.

With the Alachua County Youth Fair and Livestock Show set to begin in less than two months, the collapse of the Alachua County Fairgrounds pole barn last month has raised concerns about what alternative facility can be secured given the short timeframe.

Repairs on the metal roof of the pole barn were almost half-done when the roof collapsed sometime on the night of Dec. 11 during a storm.

The improvements were set to cost $52,652, and the price of repairs to date — which the county has to cover despite the project’s abrupt derailing — is just under $39,900, according to a December county report on the situation.

The now-defunct facility has been removed, said Robert Avery, the county’s parks superintendent. The estimated cost of demolition was about $8,700, according to the report.

Several factors contributed to the collapse of the open-air pole barn, including its age, exposure to weathering and lack of maintenance, according to a Driscoll Engineering report on the structure. There was dry rot in its wood framing.

The county took over annual management of the fairgrounds from the Alachua County Fair Association after the Alachua County Commission voted not to renew its lease in 2009, as previously reported by The Sun.

The demise of the pole barn has left the youth fair, which will run from March 7-12, without its usual event facility. Given the time crunch, Avery said his office’s recommendation is to rent a large, clear span tent as an alternative.

Another option would be renting the Canterbury Showplace equestrian center in Newberry, but more time would be needed to determine if the location is feasible and to negotiate pricing, he said.

Using the fairgrounds exhibition hall is also a possibility but would require modifications, according to the county parks office’s recommendation report. Installing a new steel pole barn would cost about $164,000 and couldn’t be done by March 1, when the county needs to have the issue resolved.

Acting County Manager Richard Drummond said he expects to pick an option as soon as possible.

The tent would cost about $20,000 to rent, according to the county parks office’s report.

If selected, the rented tent would be erected at the old pole barn location, Avery said. The now-absent facility’s railings are still in place.

Emily Eubanks, a member of the youth fair’s board of directors, said it was lucky the pole barn didn’t collapse in March during the event. About 300 children usually participate in the fair.

“It’s disappointing that they let the facilities get to a state that something like this had to happen,” she said.

Eubanks doesn’t consider the tent an ideal situation. It would offer protection from the rain, but the flapping noise of the tent could scare the animals.

But given the nearness of the event, a solution is necessary to ensure the fair is ready for the children and their animals. Kids have been working on their projects for months, including Eubanks’ son, 9-year-old Will.

“Well, he gets up every morning and he goes out there and feeds his animals no matter what — rain or shine or whatever,” she said. “He’s got a lot of money invested in this, and it’s his money, not our money.”

The Hoggetowne Medieval Faire, which opens this month, and the Alachua County Fair have used the pole barn in the past, but the youth fair is the only event that depends on the facility, Avery said.

Beyond the pole barn, the fairgrounds’ exhibition hall also has problems, including a leaky roof, poor acoustics and lack of air-conditioning. The county doesn’t get many calls from people interested in renting the hall because of its drawbacks.

“Some structures get to a point where it’s just too costly to do any upgrades that make it worthwhile,” he said.

With the County Commission’s goal of relocating the fairgrounds and redeveloping the current site as a business park, Avery doesn’t expect the hall to undergo improvements. The county is negotiating with the National Hot Rod Association over establishing the fairgrounds at the Auto-Plus Raceway at Gainesville, better known as the Gainesville Raceway.

Drummond said he doesn’t recommend doing anything about the pole barn, such as replacing it, until those negotiations are complete.

Contact Morgan Watkins at 338-3104 or

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