Two days before the Lebanon Area Fair was about to launch its 2022 edition, the Lebanon Valley Exposition Center and Fairgrounds and the county fair both received American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding totaling $1.6 million.  

Read More: Putting on the Lebanon Area Fair is a year ’round job, sometimes more

Approved during the biweekly meeting of the county commissioners, the fair board received $950,000 while the expo center was awarded $650,000 in ARPA funding to make renovations throughout most of the fairgrounds.

The fair board sought the funding to make safety enhancements, particularly concerning lighting and to expand bleacher capacity. 

“The scope of the project is bleachers and, at the same time, improving the lighting to both the track itself and the surrounding areas,” said Dan Siegel, a representative of the Lebanon Fair Board. “The areas where the crowds are will have better lighting, better safety, and more efficient lighting than what we have now.”

County administrator Jamie Wolgemuth added that the fairgrounds have historically struggled with electricity capacity. “So, installing this may help because you will have LED lighting, presumably, and that sort of thing,” he said.

Siegel agreed with Wolgemuth’s assessment.

“We’re obviously a budget-conscious organization – we have to be to survive,” said Siegel. “But there comes a time when you outgrow what you put in 30 years ago, and electrical usage is always a concern there. At the same time, a component of it is also getting things graded out again so that when we are doing these improvements, we’re putting it in exactly where we want it to be.”

Before the commissioners took their vote, Wolgemuth commented that the funding approval is for events beyond those held during the fair.

“This is not just a fair event, obviously there are other events throughout the year that exceed the capacity of the bleachers,” he said.

Siegel said that the relationship with the fair and the expo center is a symbiotic relationship.

“The fair is the primary benefactor of it (the funding)” said Siegel. “But then 51 other weeks of the year, expo has a state-of-the-art facility that is more marketable. And, yes, there are a growing number of track events there throughout the spring, summer, and fall seasons.”

The fair’s requested renovations/work and expenditures are: 

  • Add 2,450 seats to the track area and making it code compliant for handicapped seating – $465,000.
  • Upgrade the track area lighting system, including the placement of new poles – $275,000.
  • Excavation, concrete, and landscaping at the track area – $160,000.

The fair’s grant includes a $50,000 contingency for a total of $950,000.

After the meeting, the center’s executive director Pat Kerwin told LebTown the reason both the fair board and his organization made separate requests, despite the fact that the expo center runs the fairground facilities throughout the entire year, is because the county fair is the biggest user of the track.

“The heaviest use of the track area is really with the fair and while it is getting more use other than the fair, the fair has to turn people away because of capacity issues,” said Kerwin. “That request benefits the fair more than the expo center – although there is a benefit to the expo center, too.”

Kerwin told commissioners the expo center will apply their ARPA funding to repave the parking lot, widen the entrance way, and pave other areas that contain gravel that are located around the fairgrounds. 

“The main parking lot is desperately in need of resurfacing,” said Kerwin. “If you’ve been out there, you’ll see there are cracks and potholes that we temporarily filled in for the fair. We also want to widen the entrance way. If you get out to the fair this year, you’ll quickly see how narrow that entrance way is. We’ve been working with PennDOT to make that happen and, finally, we want to pave areas to the back and to the side that are still in stone, so it is quite a project.”

Kerwin added that the total cost of the project is $628,000 but the ask is for $650,000 to cover engineering fees and to address drainage fields that are located in proximity to the areas slated to be paved. Kerwin said there is no timetable to complete the paving project since numerous events are scheduled but added he hopes it is completed by the end of 2022.

The breakdown of the expo center funding request is:

  • Main entrance repaving – $100,000
  • Repaving main park log and paving unpaved areas – $528,000

The request from expo center officials includes $22,000 as a contingency. 

These two ARPA approvals bring the county’s total disbursement to around $23.6 million of the $27 million it received from the federal government during the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Read More: Lebanon County in good shape to spend ARPA funds by 2024 federal deadline

After the commissioners approved the ARPA funding request for the expo center, they voted to approve a hotel tax grant fund application request in the amount of $12,000 to the Lebanon Area Fair to cover a majority of the $16,000 budget for fair advertising and promotion and online ticketing capabilities. 

When asked by LebTown what economic impact the fair and expo center have locally, Wolgemuth said the last study that was performed was about 10 years ago and noted that data would now be outdated. Kerwin said that the impact is “significant,” adding that if you talked to the representatives of the hotel across the street from the fairgrounds, they’d tell you how impactful the expo center is to them. 

Read More: The Fair from across the street: Does it impact neighboring businesses?

Commission chairman Robert Phillips said he believes that capacity throughout the year at the Marriott property typically runs consistently at about 80 percent, and later added that these funding requests are important because they address the top two economic drivers in Lebanon County: agriculture and tourism.

Concerning the anticipated heatwave that was set to bake the Lebanon Valley during the week-long fair, which began on Saturday,  Siegel said fair officials have taken steps to address the expected high heat.

“Anytime you have an event the last week of July, you do face those challenges,” said Siegel. “We do have a fan with a mister set up in a central area, around the fair booths where kids love to play in that and it is a cooling area. Our new pavilion actually has three fans – it’s amazing the amount of air they move, and then, of course, we have our air-conditioned halls… where there’s still a lot to see.”

In other county business, the commissioners: 

  • Approved 41 service contracts for 2022-23 as submitted by Lebanon County Children & Youth Services (CYS).
  • Entered into a contract with Central Counties Youth Center to provide secure detention and services at a cost of $395 per day per juvenile for CYS. 
  • Voted to award a contract to Berks County-based Construction Masters Services LLC in the amount of $524,933 for stone and surface rehabilitation on sections of the Lebanon Valley Rail Trail. The sections to be rehabbed are 2.6 miles of the trail and includes the placement of pavement markings at Butler Road and Boyd Street. The two other bids received totaled $703,440 and $798,700.
  • Accepted a Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency grant for the county’s hazardous material response fund in the amount of $14,661. The grant is the county’s allocation from the state fund and will be used to upgrade response suits for hazmat team members. 
  • Signed a three-year contract with State College-based MCM Consulting Group in the amount of $24,000 per year to provide professional services to Lebanon County’s department of Emergency Management Services.
  • Entered into a lease agreement with New Penn Motor Express LLC for the logistics company to provide warehouse space for equipment the county will be using during construction of its new 911 Center. The cost to the county is $3,496.22 per month or $4.76 per square foot of space. The warehouse is located in the 600 block of South 5th Avenue in Lebanon.
  • Granted real estate tax exemption requests for three fully disabled veterans. 
  • Approved a request from Hanover-based Motorama Productions Inc. in the amount of $5,500 to expand advertising for Dragfest, which will be held in early January at the expo center. 
  • Received and voted to approve two contracts for Lebanon County Transit and Central Medical Ambulance Transport to be service providers for the 2022-23 Medical Assistance Transportation Program as administered by Lebanon County Community Action Partnership.
  • Accepted the treasurer’s report and approved the minutes of their July 7 meeting. 
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James Mentzer is a freelance writer whose published works include the books Pennsylvania Manufacturing: Alive and Well; Bucks County: A Snapshot in Time; United States Merchant Marine Academy: In Service to the Nation 1943-2018; A Century of Excellence: Spring Brook Country Club 1921-2021; Lancaster...