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Improvements underway at fairgrounds Theater Building

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Noble Lewis checks out the new foam insulation which covers the interior walls at the Theater Building at the Fulton County Fairgrounds. Central air conditioning will soon be added to allow the building to be used year-round for rentals, and to be more comfortable when beauty pageants are held during the county fair. Photo by Richard Irby [Order this photo]
The plan is not going according to the script, but work is underway to make several big improvements to the Theater Building at the Fulton County Fairgrounds.

"We had the insulation blown in, and work will begin soon to get air conditioning installed," Fair Manager Carolyn Lewis told The News.

Last October, the Salem City Council approved a long-term lease with the Fulton County Fair Association to add the Theater Building and Clubhouse to fairgrounds properties it manages and maintains.

The fair association believes the lack of air condition in the Theater Building has hurt attendance and participation at beauty pageants held in the building during the county fair.

Lewis noted in discussion with the city council that, while the structure is sturdy, the interior is in poor shape, and the association intended to renovate the building to make it more inviting to guests during the fair, and to make it suitable for groups to rent year-round for reunions and other events.

"We did not get approved for any grant funding," Lewis said, of a community facilities grant the city authorized Lewis to apply for late last year.

So, it is on to Plan B. Lewis said the fair association has come up with an alternative financing plan to have the building ready for a big June event -- North Arkansas Electric's annual meeting.

"We are going to use $10,000 in state funds that Lori (Rep. Lori Benedict) gave us for the exhibit building, and borrow $10,000 to $15,000," Lewis explained.

Rep. Benedict donated $10,000 in state General Improvement Funds last spring. The money was to be used to help the association put a 50-foot by 20-foot addition to the Hickinbotham-Miller building. Flower, horticulture and art exhibits were to be moved into the new space, creating more room in the main exhibit building for commercial exhibits.

"We think using the donation for Theater Building improvements is more of a priority," Lewis said. Representative Benedict supports the change.

"As soon as they did the work, I could feel a difference in here. It felt a lot cooler," Noble Lewis said, as he showed off the blown-on insulation that now coats the metal walls inside the Theater Building. "This blew on like a mist and, in seconds, it puffed up and dried."

As the outside walls of the metal building heat up on a hot day, the insulation is supposed to block the heat from migrating into the interior.

While the association may not be able to afford it right away, interior walls will eventually be put up to make the inside more attractive -- but cooler is definitely an improvement.

Guiltner Heating and Cooling has been hired to install central air conditioning, for the first time since the Theater Building was built more than 40 years ago.

One used air handler, donated by the Fulton County Hospital when it obtained new units, will be installed, along with one new air conditioning unit and two used units that Guiltner will also donate.

"We should be able to use the duct work that was put in here for an old wood heating system, and some new ducts will be run to the dressing room and stage," Noble Lewis said.

The goal is to have the air conditioning up and running when Little Texas, the group hired to perform at the co-op's annual meeting, takes the stage on June 7.

The garage doors that make up the south wall will be open during the free concert, to allow a large outside crowd to hear, but Lewis is confident the insulation and air conditioning will make a big difference.

"Even with the garage doors open, cool air will be circulating inside the building for the concert," Lewis said. "For the fair pageants, the building will be closed up and fully air conditioned, which we've needed for a long time."

Also on the "do immediately" list is the remodeling of both restrooms, and making them accessible to the disabled.

The plan to improve the Theater Building also includes eventually adding energy efficient doors and the new wall coverings, as funding permits.

Lewis said she will continue to seek grants and, while fairgrounds projects were not funded in the last grant cycle, the fair association has a good record of receiving grant support for improvement projects.

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