To say Delaware County has changed a bit since the 1960s would be an understatement. However, for a county that has become a yearly staple at or near the top of the list of fastest-growing counties in the state, one of its focal points — the fairgrounds — hasn’t quite undergone the same transformation.
On Saturday morning, that all changed as state and local officials gathered at 236 Pennsylvania Ave. in Delaware for a rebirth of sorts for the Delaware County Fairgrounds as a demolition crew began the process of tearing down the 9,600-square-foot Junior Fair Building (built in 1964) to make way for what will become the fairgrounds’ crown jewel — the $3 million Agricultural Center.
While the moment was bittersweet for some of the local leaders who gathered to watch the demolition and to take part in the groundbreaking ceremony for the new facility, it was also viewed as welcome sight.
“I’ve been coming to these fairgrounds since I was a little kid, which has been more than a decade or two ago,” Delaware County Commissioner Jeff Benton said. “Quite honestly, we have not invested in our fairgrounds since I was a kid. This is a huge investment, and what is neat about it is this is just the dawn of a new era.
“This is just the beginning. We’ve got a bunch of more projects planned that will truly transform this fairgrounds into the really ultimate showcase that we know that we should have here in Delaware County,” he added.
Delaware County Commissioner Gary Merrell called the occasion an “incredible and great day” for the county, the city, and the taxpayers who will be able to utilize the new facility.
State Sen. Andrew Brenner, R-Powell, who presented the Delaware County Agricultural Society (DCAS) with a proclamation from the Ohio Senate, reminisced about the times he spent in the Junior Fair Building as a youngster showing exhibits some “30-plus years ago.”
Reading from the proclamation, Brenner said the new Agricultural Center is “a testament to the outstanding support the Delaware County voters have for the future of their community. This 24,000-square-foot facility will become an integral part of the fairgrounds.”
He went on to state, “We are certain that this new facility will continue the tradition of excellence that’s long been the hallmark of the Delaware County Agricultural Society and the Delaware County Fairgrounds.”
As for the new Agricultural Center, DCAS Board of Trustees President Don Howard said the the expectation is the building — which will house the fair office, Delaware County Agricultural Society Hall of Fame, and the junior fair — will be completed no later than spring 2020.
“We think the facility will be an asset to the city, the county, and the community,” he said. “It will be able to seat 500 people and can host events that might otherwise go out of the county and the city.”
Howard added the facility will be “heated and cooled,” and portions will be open and available for use year-round.
According to a press release issued by the county, the Agricultural Center will also house Junior Fair exhibits during the county fair, and additional features include restrooms and a warming kitchen.
As for the cost of the facility, the press release states the price tag is estimated to be around $3 million, with funding coming from the five-year, 3 percent bed tax approved by county voters in March 2016.
“We are going to see a lot of changes (at the fairgrounds) in the next few years because of the bed tax that was passed,” Merrell said.
For county fair participants and visitors wondering what changes to expect for this year’s fair since the Junior Fair Building in the process of being razed, Howard said the board is currently “working on plans to temporarily relocate the junior fair exhibits to a portion of the Coliseum, and the Antique Farm Machinery Club elsewhere in a nearby area for the 2019 county fair.”
Delaware Mayor Carolyn Kay Riggle added a project of this magnitude just didn’t happen overnight.
“Kudos go to (DCAS board member) Chip Thomson,” she said. “Without his idea, without his dream, none of this would have ever happened. He got the rest of us on board. He really put his heart into this fairgrounds.”
Joshua Keeran is the editor of The Delaware Gazette. He can be reached at 740-413-0900.