St Croix River Road Ramblings

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Monday, August 7, 2017

Polk County Wisconsin -- Destruction of the Fair Grounds?

    The Polk County Fair is over for another year.  It has been part of my life since the earliest I can remember, first as a thrilled toddler riding the Merry-Go-Round, then as a 4-H'er, later as helping Mom with her 50+ years of exhibiting fruits and vegetables, then as Margo and I began exhibiting.  
    When we retired in 2005, we began volunteering at the fair, mostly working at the 1850s historic school house, helping with make it a historical stop during the fair, something we did again this year. 
   However, the historic nature of the fairgrounds, with many buildings 100 years old or more, is being threatened by a group of folks who believe old is bad, and new is good, threatening the future of the dozen or so historic buildings at the 1886 fairgrounds. 
  Here is my letter to the editor this week.  I have become an advocate for repairing the 1909 grandstand, and that has evolved into concern over all of the old buildings.  
    The Polk County Fair Park in St Croix Falls has many historic buildings in danger of being destroyed by the Polk County Fair Society and the Polk County Board.  We must act now to stop this wanton destruction of our history on the 1886 fairgrounds.  They are our buildings, owned by us, the residents or taxpayers of the county.  The two boards appear to be moving rapidly to begin the process with the 1909 grandstand destruction, but this is but the tip of the iceberg.  Motivated by visions of newness, pushed by a campaign of misinformation and aided by  intentional neglect, we are in grave danger of losing at least three more buildings in the near future.  
   The historic 1909 grandstand is the first in line, but the 1850s Red School House, the flower building, and the dance pavilion are next in line if the current Fair Society continues to pull the wool over the eyes of us and of the county board.    
    Margo and I have been volunteering at the fair since 2005 helping with the oldest building on the fairgrounds, the Red School House, and are members of the Fair Society.   At the fair this year we heard disturbing news of planned destruction, far beyond that of the grandstand, ideas that we previously had dismissed as rumors, but now confirmed by members of the Fair Society Board, members of the County Board, and by volunteers at the fair and fair goers. 
   The disturbing news?  There is a campaign to rid the south end of the fairgrounds of the wonderful old buildings and replace them with another pole shed.  The grandstand is first, and the other buildings next. 
   The campaign includes intentional neglect of the buildings.  I was rather dumbfounded last year when, seeing the Red school house was badly in need of paint inside and out, and a few window sash replacements, I made a written offer to raise $500 to begin the fixes and the offer was ignored by the fair board. 
  This year when I talked to fair board members, asking them why they weren’t fixing the old buildings or at least taking my offer to do it myself with the school, was told that the job was overwhelming, $100,000 or more needed because of lead paint issues, and the building was in such poor shape it wasn’t worth fixing and the comment, that we should be grateful the society kept the school house around another year for historic exhibits at all.   
  That lead paint is an excuse is complete nonsense!  The school house is like any building, in need of ongoing care, but the issues are minor and those of neglect.  A little maintenance and it will be good for several more generations of fairgoers.         
    The Wisconsin Historical Society tells us “You do not need to take drastic measures to eliminate lead paint from your historic house or building. Lead paint is only a hazard if it is unstable, so the mere presence of lead paint is no reason to destroy the historic fabric of your structure…procedures to safely remove lead paint should not cost more than 10% above the cost of a hand-scraped paint removal job”  and goes on to explain the easily followed details, the same things I do with my own 100 year old house.  
     Not only did fair board members raise this lead as an insurmountable issue, but a county board member repeated it last week.  Part of a campaign of misinformation from the Fair Society and bought, without question, by some county board members, who should at least take the time to understand these issues rather than just repeat incorrect information (BS is really a better description).   
   Another issue with the school:  two of the eighteen window sashes need replacement now and others will in the future.  The wildly exaggerated cost by board members is, like that of lead paint, totally bogus. The frames need painting but are sound.  A replacement, made-to-size barn sash that matches the historic existing windows perfectly is about $60/per sash at Menards, and easily replaced.  When I volunteered this year to do the fixes and fund them, through donations from local history societies, I was told I couldn’t proceed by fair board members.     
   What we have, is a campaign of destruction, led by the Fair Society President Dale Wood, in what appears to be a personal mission to destroy the historic buildings on the fairgrounds and replace them with pole sheds.  Mr. Wood claims phone calls and people from the community are unanimously behind him – hundreds of them all in favor of ridding the fairgrounds of its history, with the grandstand the first domino.  
    Our County board makes the final decisions on buildings, informed (misinformed?) by the Fair Society as to what needs work. County board member, Larry Jepson noted at a board committee meeting last week, that while at the fair, he noted the peeling paint, deteriorating roofs, and a general lack of upkeep on the buildings.  Administrator Frye commented that the Fair Society has the obligation to bring those problems to the County Board’s attention, and if the buildings are deteriorating, the Fair Society is not doing its job, either in doing the maintenance or asking the county to take it on.    
   My opinion is that the neglect is intentional and part of the attempt to get rid of older buildings by the Fair Society.  We all know that we have to continue to maintain our own houses to keep them livable.  The fair buildings are no different.    
  We, the residents and taxpayers of Polk County own the fairgrounds as a county owned park.  We vote for our County board members to represent our interests. If we value the fairgrounds and want the historic buildings to continue a part of our fair experience, we must make our voice heard too.  
        The next county board meeting, Aug 15th, 6 pm, considers a resolution to fund an engineering study of the grandstand that would actually find out the condition and cost of repair to continue using the oldest grandstand in the whole Midwest.    
    Right now we don’t even know what is wrong with it nor the cost of getting it fixed.    Any rational group of folks making a decision on their own buildings, unless they were insistent on a new building only, or no building at all, would start by finding out what is wrong and the cost of fixing it before making the decision to tear it down.   Yet that is likely not to happen with the grandstand. 
    Egged on and misinformed by the Fair Society, our county board representatives are likely to vote against even this modest step!   Five or more members may be voting nay in their belief that any money spent on the fairgrounds at all is a waste of  taxpayer’s money and open bleachers or grassy knolls are the answer. A few more will vote against it for fear the cost of fixing will be reasonable, and so get in the way of the Fair Society’s campaign to modernize everything, having accepted the Fair Society’s propaganda efforts.   
  What can we do to stop this push to destruction of our history?  Make your opinion heard by both County and Fair board members.   We own these buildings and only we can stop this campaign to destroy our heritage. 
  August 15, 6 pm, at Balsam Lake at the county board meeting is the crucial step in this process when a vote for the engineering study is a vote to proceed rationally, and against is a vote to destroy our history.   
   Become a member of the Polk Co Fair Society.  Just send $5 to Diane Kuhl, 298 30th St., Clear Lake, WI 54005.  include your name, address, telephone number, email – 5 year membership.  Sometimes we must work within organizations that purport to have our best interests in mind. 
  By the way, the Red School House had its peeling paint and rusted spots on the outside touched up, the inside worst flaking paint removed, and a temporary fix for the two sagging window sashes by an anonymous volunteer who just did it.   

The Flower building looks like an old school house too.  It has a handicap entrance to the side, and other than some peeling paint, quite nicely preserved!   

The 1850s School House where Margo volunteer.  With a little paint and some window sashes, it will be fine for many more generations of visitors. 

The metal brick embossed siding is sound, but needed some touchup and probably a full painting.  Last time was by the 4-H kids many years ago. 

After some scraping and touchup paint, the siding rust and peeling is halted, but painting the whole building would be better.