Final stand

LISBON – It took two hours and two excavators to bring down a centerpiece of the Columbiana County Fair.

Those with fond memories of the grandstand at the Columbiana County Fairgrounds looked on as the aged structure was demolished Saturday morning.

“There were lots of events, and it held a lot of history for 168 years,” fair board president John Wolf said. “Now it’s time to step into the future.”

People snapped pictures, whether from their car or on the field at safe proximity, and reminisced about the 1,428-seat structure as it was being torn down courtesy of excavators from Yarian Brothers Contracting of New Waterford and Hillcrest Farms in Columbiana.

Sharen Cope, board director, looked forward to this event.

“This is a very emotional day for the board,” Cope said. “We had been considering this for over two years now.”

Carol Aegerter, whose husband, Ernie, was a board president and was involved in the fair in the past, watched as demolition took place.

“I’m excited about this,” Aegerter said. “I usually didn’t sit in the stands. I was involved in the horse shows, and so I sat near the sound tower.”

For those who watched from the field, a small fire was set to keep guests warm with the seats used as kindling. Whatever seats weren’t used as kindling served as keepsakes for those who have had memories of past events from the fair.

“I have pictures of my grandchildren in the seats,” fair treasurer Shelley Bergman said. “It’s great to have been part of this.”

Don Humphrey, longtime board member and voice of the Columbiana County Fair, noted both the age of the grandstand and need for the demolition to take place.

“The racetrack has been here in this same spot since 1853,” Humphrey said. “The roof that is on the grandstand now was completed in 1919, and has been like this since. This is a day that has been long overdue.”

Many people recall fond memories with the rich history of events, ranging from truck and tractor pulls to demolition derbies and concerts. With those fond memories of past, however, came the harsh reality of present as the grandstands showed their age with cracks in the concrete foundation, weakness of the wood and holes in the roof.

Not even grandstand committee co-chairman Robin Houlette was comfortable with occupying the seating.

“I’ve been watching events at the fair for years, and I wouldn’t even sit there,” Houlette remarked. “There were holes in the roof, it was just in bad shape.”

Ultimately, the board decided to build a new grandstand, and demolition began at 9 a.m. as the excavators pulled out the pillars section by section, causing the roof to collapse. One excavator then tore down the entrance of the grandstand as the sides were ripped by another excavator. The grandstand was completely demolished a little after 11 a.m.

Initially, J.D.S. Landscaping Co. of Columbiana would have provided a tubgrinder which would reuse the dirt and wood from the demolition, and use the wood for energy at a cardboard plant.

However, due to a malfunction in equipment from J.D.S. which would not make the equipment available for another three weeks, the debris was set on fire instead.

The new metal grandstand, while not fully enclosed, will seat roughly 2,400. A new press box will be included along with restrooms, although the latter will be installed depending on available resources.

In addition, handicapped accessibility will be improved, and according to grandstand committee co-chairman Paul Lease, the new spread-out design will give a sporting events feel while remaining in compliance with handicap accessibility laws.

“The handicap spots will be spread apart in the front,” Lease said. “There will be a couple seats for the family along with space for the handicapped. It’s similar to what you would see if you went to a ballpark.”

The project is estimated to cost around $900,000, and its completion is expected, at the latest, by the end of June.

“If things work out properly, we might have the grandstands completed by the end of May,” Lease said. “Otherwise, we will have it ready at the end of June just in time for the fair.”

The fair board will determine which company will build the new grandstand at its next meeting Wednesday.