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By Brianna Wray
The Times 

Waitsburg Council Delays Grandstand Decision

Parks and Recreation District to be formed by October; will consider options

 

August 30, 2018

Brianna Wray

The fate of the grandstands will be decided by the Parks & Recreation District board.

WAITSBURG-During their August 15 meeting, the Waitsburg City Council agreed to delay a decision on what to do with the grandstand structure at the Waitsburg Fairgrounds. Council members said they want to wait until the city's Parks and Recreation District is up and running.

The council made the decision to resurrect the district at its June 20 meeting. One of the main purposes of the new district will be to sort out issues at the fairgrounds, including the fate of the grandstands, booking events and general maintenance.

However, the district board will be responsible for overseeing other facilities, including the Waitsburg Pool, Preston Park and the Waitsburg Cemetery.

The deadline to form the new district was set by the council for October, but as of now Justin Steagall (Chair), Sandra Morrison (Vice Chair) Danielle Carpenter (Secretary), Wyatt Withers (Treasurer) and Trevor Johnson (Member) have been recruited as Parks and Recreation District Board members.

With the formation of the district underway, interested parties await the next installation of the ongoing conversation. Danielle Carpenter, the board's secretary, is enthusiastic but realistic.

"We don't have an account with money in it for Parks & Rec specifically or anything like that," Carpenter said. "So we're starting with very low-budget projects such as movie nights, getting a running trail going, and just getting people out and doing things together in the parks.

"I'm really excited about this," she added. "The next two or three weeks are going to be some big movements for us."

The group plans to meet with the Friends of the Pool and the Friends of the Fairgrounds committees as well as the city council representatives to establish a baseline of communication. Then, going forward, they will host public open forum meetings.

"We want to do a lot for Waitsburg and we hope we get some good community support," Carpenter said.

Currently the board functions on a volunteer basis and is funded only by donations and grants. The city plans to run a Parks and Recreation levy in 2019, which, if it passed, would provide funding from property taxes for the district. The levy was originally planned for this November, but was delayed.

"Pushing [the levy] back gives us a chance to show people what they would be voting for," Carpenter said. "If we can do this without it, imagine what we could do if we had a budget."

In April, an advisory vote on the grandstands was included on the Waitsburg city election ballot. Given the choice of using taxpayer money to restore the grandstands, tear them down, or replace them with a modern facility, nearly 60% of voters chose the teardown option.

In order to avoid that fate for the grandstands, city council member Kate Hockersmith has applied for two grants which, if awarded, will cover the costs of bringing the grandstands up to code by stabilizing the posts and adding brackets the top. She stressed that those funds would only be available if the city makes the decision to save the grandstands.

"No grandstands, no money," Hockersmith said at the August 15 city council meeting. According to Hockersmith, if the council votes to remove grandstands, the grants will be rejected outright, she said. Award winners are announced in October.

The City of Waitsburg assumed control of the fairgrounds in 2005 and presented a plan for installing a little league complex, removing the inner track rail, grassing over the track, and demolishing the failing horse stalls. This plan was met with opposition by citizens who wanted to preserve the city's racing history, and by others who had different ideas for using the space.

To address these concerns, the Friends of the Fairgrounds committee was formed, with Lane Gwinn as Chair. The committee was faced with the choice to tear down the grandstands at a net cost of $15,000 or accept a bid from contractor Richard Nicely for $41,000 to bring the grandstands up to code, or $500,000 to tear down the existing structure and build something entirely new. This was the choice voters faced in the April advisory vote.

Meanwhile, opinions on the matter were as varied as ever. Waitsburg resident Jim Davison suggested placing a time limit on the fundraising efforts so that the decision could be made once and for all. The idea of creating a racing museum also arose.

The Waitsburg Commercial Club Board members suggested using funds to hire a contracted part-time booking agent and outfitting the grounds with wi-fi were more important decisions than renovating the grandstands.

The City Council will hear from Parks and Rec board members at their Sept. 19 about progress on getting the new district up and running.

 

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