Once again this year, 4-H crafts will be exhibited in a massive tent at the Spokane Interstate Fair because a proposed exhibit hall is over budget and behind schedule.
Interstate Fair board members thought they could build the hall - a replacement for three cramped and leaky annexes - for about $1.35 million. They thought the work would be done in time for this year’s fair.
But board members learned Tuesday the cost probably will hit $2 million and that construction won’t begin until after the fair.
Construction costs account for only a small amount of the increase, said Gary Fuher, the county’s special projects director. The rest is landscaping, paving and other “ancillary things,” he said.
Board members and Spokane County Commissioner Skip Chilberg said they were surprised at the increase. “I was unaware of it until today,” Chilberg said.
But Fuher and interim parks Director Gary Oberg said architect Warren Heylman warned about the cost overruns in a letter dated Dec. 28. A later letter warned the project was on such a tight schedule that any delay would mean it wouldn’t be done before the fair starts.
Those letters went to Sam Angove, who resigned as county parks director Tuesday amid complaints from some employees who say he created a hostile work environment.
“Sam had a lot of plans, and if Sam were here, I think they would be followed through,” said fair manager Paul Gillingham. “If they’re not, I think there’s going to be a firestorm” from the people who were promised use of the building.
Gillingham said some 4-H groups already have called his office, asking dimensions of the new building so they can plan their fair exhibits.
“I’ve been telling them, `You might want to hold off on that,”’ Gillingham said.
The 4-H once had a building on the fairgrounds, funded with a state grant. The county moved that building into the parking lot before last year’s fair, and uses it as an office for the parks and recreation department.
In exchange for that building, the county promised to build the new exhibit hall before the 1995 fair. Some fair staff members refer to last year’s 4-H exhibit as “A River Runs Through It,” because rivulets streamed through the tent during rainstorms.
Carolyn Harrelson, a 4-H organizer with the Washington State Cooperative Extension, would not comment on Tuesday’s announcement. She only started working with Spokane County 4-H groups in recent months, and doesn’t know the background of their fair exhibits, Harrelson said.
The 40,000-square-foot building would replace three annexes attached to the main exhibit hall. Together, those annexes cover about 18,000 square feet.
Money to pay off the construction loan was to come from exhibitors, not county taxpayers. Commissioners recently approved an increase in the amount exhibitors pay to lease space at the fairgrounds.
But that increase covers only $1.35 million, not the new, higher estimate, said Chilberg. Commissioners want a more accurate estimate, and a chance to talk to exhibitors, before they agree to raise the rates still higher, he said.
Exhibitors say the existing annexes were poorly designed and leak badly.
“I had at least 18 buckets catching water in those annexes” during a Christmas arts and crafts show, said Jim Custer, who has organized a variety of shows at the fairgrounds since 1990.
Custer said space is so tight at the fairgrounds that he’s turned away more than 100 exhibitors for an upcoming home and yard show, and 80 for a spring antique show. Organizers of other shows report similar problems, he said.
“I don’t think the county would be going out on a limb in building this new building,” he said. “I think they’re losing money every month it’s not built.”