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Will Expo Center construction hurt horse shows?

By DARREL RADFORD - dradford@thecouriertimes.com

Architectural drawings of the proposed Henry County Expo Center became the catalyst of excitement – and also concern – at Wednesday’s Henry County Commissioners’ meeting.

Excitement comes with all the new facility has to offer – a banquet hall for conferences, proms and weddings; classroom space for 4-H clubs and office space for extension office use; as well as a 55,000-square-foot building for livestock shows, conferences, concerts and the the 4-H Fair. 

Some concern, however, accompanied Wednesday’s review of the drawings because construction of the Expo Center – to be built on the hill west of the Henry County Saddle Club – might be going on during horse shows. Saddle Club officials are particularly worried about the Indy Circuit, a multi-week event starting in early June, which officials say is their biggest money-maker of the season.

So time is of the essence and officials hope Old Man Winter is kind enough for lots of progress on the facility to be made before the horse trailers start coming to town for the 2019 season.

Commissioners approved architectural drawings of the facility after Robert Seig of Seig Surveying presented them, setting the stage for bids on the project to be advertised.

“It’s important to us that we try to get that dirt work done yet this season, because we don’t want to have to do a bunch of dirt work over there during rental season for your guys,” Jake “J.R.” Martin, vice president of the Henry County Expo Board, said to Saddle Club officials at Wednesday’s meeting.

The Henry County Saddle Club’s Lisa Pryor expressed concern over how much “invasive action” would be seen when it comes to heavy sewer or drainage work.

“Is that going to involve coming through the road? Is that going to involve anything on our side of the road?” Pryor asked. “Our season starts April 2.”

She also expressed fears about construction impact on camp sites for the horse show participants and noise levels that could frighten the horses.

Pryor said the “big rigs” come completely around the facility where Cardinal Field is because they can’t make the short turns.

Seig said Phillips Shelter Road would be impacted most, because the grade was going to be changed there.

“We don’t want to sugarcoat nothin’. You guys are going to notice us working over there,” Martin said.

“I’m worried about that,” Pryor said. “I’m not going to lie, because when you guys start building and making a lot of noise, it’s going to mess up our whole season.”

“Our shows, they start coming in on Friday and they leave Sunday,” Pryor added. “Eighty-five to 90 percent of the time, they are Friday to Monday but that three-week jaunt from May to June, that’s a concern, because that’s our biggest show. That is the only time we just really beg and ask that you don’t do construction.”

Pryor said that last year, the Indy Circuit filled 525 horse stalls.

“It is so packed,” Pryor said of the horse show season. “It would be horrible to have something going on that would disturb the shows.”

“I can’t make any promises,” Martin responded. “All I can say is we’re going to try and get the heavy work done now. We’re going to try to get the footers in during March, but the Good Lord is the one who controls the weather, and if He gives us a longer winter and earlier spring, then we could be further along. If He doesn’t, we could be further behind. That’s just the world of construction, pushing dirt and building new buildings.”

Officials emphasized, however, that part of the construction includes building a new access road that should minimize use of the ones close to the Saddle Club facilities.

Seig said the new road would be first on the construction list.

But in response to a question about stopping construction entirely during the Indy Circuit show, Martin indicated that may not be possible.

“When those guys come in and start working, they’re going to want to go because they’ve probably got another project waiting for them after this one,” Martin stressed. “Time is money with everybody and if we go to delaying them, there could be added fees. You know, this isn’t construction for life. This is construction for one year and we wanted to do it a lot sooner than that but we had our own set of roadblocks we had to work through as well.”

“That show carries us for the whole year,” Pryor said of the 12-day Indy Circuit. “It pays our bills. It would be a shame if people wanted their money back.” 

In his motion to approve the drawings for the Expo Center, Commissioner Kim Cronk also asked language be put into the bid documents “noise should minimized” during the horse show activities, particularly the Indy Circuit.

“We can, when we bid the project, put in there that on these dates, we need to minimize some of the sound and cooperate with the Saddle Club as best we can,” Cronk said. “If we tell them up front, there’s things they (the contractors) can do to minimize that.”

Cronk’s motion was to let bids, putting in the specifications that on the Indy Circuit Show dates, noise must be minimized. The motion also specified several cottonwood trees would be taken down at no cost to the Saddle Club to help with drainage issues. 

In addition to Cronk’s motion, an invoice for Seig’s company totaling $15,382.49 was also approved.

“I want to thank everyone for their cooperation,” Cronk said. “We’ve come a long way. It was difficult, but hopefully we can all work together on a common goal and make it a win-win for Henry County.”