After decades of use by fairgoers and vendors, a key event space on the Washington County Fairgrounds has been closed.
Lisa DuPré, the Washington County Fair Complex marketing and events coordinator, says structural engineers deemed the 24,000-square-foot main exhibit hall a severe safety hazard for people and shut it down immediately.
“It could just do it on any given moment. It could collapse,” she said.
DuPré says they were informed of the severity of the hazards on February 13. In addition to the main exhibit hall, the sheep barn, milking station, and a restroom were also shut down.
“To have this, was just an avalanche,” said Richelle Borlaug, Tualatin Valley Rock and Gem Club’s president.
It was less than a month out from the rock club’s only moneymaker of the year, when Borlaug heard their 60th annual show was out a venue.
Borlaug was one of 13 booked shows in the main exhibit hall that were given the bad news by fair officials. Now, organizers are scrambling to find new, affordable spaces to have their shows.
“There were a lot of phone calls, a lot of work, a lot of frantic days and minutes, and hours. What’s gonna happen with this?” she said.
Thankfully, some last-minute scrambling allowed the rock club to find a new spot to hold their show. Borlaug says the club would have fallen apart if they hadn’t secured the Forest Grove National Guard Armory’s event space.
“It’s hard on us. It’s an unknown location. We had everything down pat,” she said.
Borlaug says they expect to lose vendors and customers because of the closure.
“The last thing, as an event facility, that you want to have to call them and give them this kind of news. And so it was very difficult to have to talk to everybody about it,” DuPré said.
At the end of 2020, fair officials hope to be opening a new 91,200-square-foot event center — nearly four times the size of the main exhibit hall that had to be closed.
“They’re all just, ‘How quick can we get into the new one?’ Now unfortunately, it’s two years away. So, you know, we can’t help them right there on that,” DuPré said of the event organizers who have been calling.
DuPré says they’re losing about $90,000 because of the closure, but she says it’s something they figured would come eventually.
Despite losing a few buildings, the Washington County Fair will still happen in July.
It’s possible the unsafe buildings might even be removed by then.
Philip Bransford, communications officer with the Washington County administrative office, says there is still a lot to figure out like a timetable and costs.
But ultimately, county commissioners will decide the fairground’s future.
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