County seeking grant to replace grandstands at fairgrounds

Evanston Rodeo Series representative John Bowns speaks in support of pursuing an Abandoned Mine Land Program grant to replace the grandstands at the Uinta County Fairgrounds. The program is specifically for public facilities that have been impacted by coal and mineral mining industries throughout their history. (HERALD PHOTO/Sheila McGuire)

EVANSTON — Uinta County is pursuing grant funding to replace the grandstands at the Uinta County Fairgrounds. County commissioners passed a resolution supporting a grant application on Tuesday, June 18, and a public meeting was held regarding the application that same evening. 

The grant opportunity is through the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality’s Abandoned Mine Land Program for public facilities in communities that have relied on the coal or mineral mining industries for a significant portion of their economic base. The official name of the local project is the Uinta County Coal Miner’s Memorial Grandstand Project, which commission chair Eric South said is fitting due to the lives lost to mining accidents in the area, including the explosions and fires in mines in Almy in the late 1800s. 

During the public meeting, Evanston Cowboy Days President Dustin Matthews spoke in support of applying for the grant. Matthews said he has been soliciting comments from people in the community and has received more than 100 comments, with nearly everyone supportive of the project. 

Matthews said most people cited safety concerns with the current grandstands, as well as concerns related to the Americans with Disabilities Act and the lack of accessibility for folks at the fairgrounds. He said the very few comments that have not been supportive have been on the basis of wanting to pursue something more than grandstands, such as a full-blown event center. 

Matthews said he has spoken with representatives of the PRCA, who are also supportive and who will be providing an official letter of support to accompany the grant application. He also shared his personal thoughts that, from an ADA perspective, the current grandstands are “downright scary.” 

Area resident Lyle Johnson shared his support of the project and said he sees this as a real opportunity for the community, especially with the idea of memorializing the Almy coal miners. Johnson said he would like to see the Union Pacific Railroad also become involved with the project and said the railroad has “an opportunity and an obligation” to help with such a memorial. 

Robin Whitmore, who is on the Uinta County Fair Board and involved with 4-H, also spoke in favor of the grant application. Whitmore said she would like to be involved with generating ideas for community fundraising to raise any necessary matching funds. 

South said the grant does not actually require matching funds, but also said he thinks it’s important to raise funds anyway to demonstrate the community is serious about the project. 

Evanston Rodeo Series representative John Bowns said the rodeo series is also in support of the project and will be submitting a letter stating such as well. 

Uinta County Clerk Amanda Hutchinson said she has received letters of support in her office from the Town of Bear River, the Uinta County Volunteer Firefighters and Uinta County Ambulance. Hutchinson suggested perhaps entities that make use of the arena at the fairgrounds could add an extra dollar or two onto ticket prices to help contribute to funding the project. 

Although official bids can’t be solicited until after the grant is received, if and when that occurs, the application requires a project description and cost estimates. Uinta County Public Works Director Clay Baird said the county plans to apply for $1.5 million based on estimates to demolish, replace and cover the grandstands and include restrooms. Costs would also include engineering and design. 

Commissioner Craig Welling said he would like to get a quote on costs related to other seating options, such as individual stadium seating, as well. Baird said he would look into those numbers prior to submitting the application. 

Hutchinson said the application must be submitted by mid-July and grant recipients would likely be notified in the fall. She said if the county were to receive a grant, timing of construction would be critical in order to avoid having the fairgrounds arena inaccessible during the summer months of usage. She said the best-case scenario would be for construction to begin in the fall of 2020, but that would depend on how long it would take to have funding actually in place.

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