Regarded by some to be the premier fairgrounds in Pennsylvania, visitors to the 2023 edition of the Lebanon Area Fair this July will notice some major upgrades to the grounds and facility.

“The fairgrounds are quite an asset to Lebanon County,” said Pat Kerwin, executive director of Lebanon Valley Exposition Corporation. “And people tell us that this is the nicest fairground in the commonwealth. There is a lot of pride by the expo people and the fair people to maintain it.”

Kerwin said the recent upgrades include the repaving of the parking lot and roads leading up to the lots at the front of the building, paving of stoned roadways in and around the fairgrounds, especially to the rear of the exhibition halls, construction of new bleachers at the grandstands, and the installation of new lighting around the track.

The parking lot at the county’s expo center was replaced last fall. (James Mentzer)

A fifth improvement, the widening of a portion of the main entrance, has not been completed. It is unknown at this time when that work will begin, according to Kerwin, since expo officials are still working with PennDOT officials to address traffic concerns along Rocherty Road, the highway that runs along the main entrance.

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“We’re hoping this gets approved. We don’t want to do anything super crazy out there,” said Kerwin, who added that the entranceway improvements would occur only on their property. “We have a little bit of an apron on the right side that is really tight for (turning) trucks.” 

The main entrance at the Lebanon Valley Exposition Center & Fairgrounds is slated for widening. When that may occur is unknown at this time.   (James Mentzer)

Kerwin said the driveway and roadway at the front of the complex have been repaved while new pavement has been laid to the rear of the complex as well as around the three outdoor open-sided barns, which are located between the main exhibition halls and the grandstand/track area. 

“Here (at the rear of the North Hall), as well as on the other side, it used to all be stone,” said Kerwin. “As people entered those buildings through the overhead doors (at the back of the exhibition hall), there were problems. If there was wet weather and they were bringing in their nice new equipment, they would unload it and have to drive through dirt. We’re so happy that we have it paved, and our customers love it.”

Pat Kerwin, executive director of the Lebanon Valley Exposition Center & Fairgrounds, stands on and points to the area behind the North Hall that was recently paved thanks to an ARPA funding grant. (James Mentzer)

Expo center and fair officials were able to complete these much-needed upgrades thanks to funding provided to their respective non-profits through the federal government’s American Rescue Protection Act (ARPA) program.

ARPA had “allocated $6.15 billion to Pennsylvania counties, metropolitan cities, and local government units to support COVID-19 response efforts, replace lost revenue, support economic stabilization for households and businesses, and address systemic public health and economic challenges,” according to information published on the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development’s website. 

Last year, just two days before the start of the fair, Lebanon County Commissioners approved ARPA funding totaling $1.6 million for the Expo Center and Lebanon Area Fair. The Expo Center received $650,000 for the paving and entrance-widening project while the fair received a $950,000 grant from the commissioners, who are charged with allocating and distributing the $27 million in ARPA funding designated for Lebanon County. 

Read More: County to underwrite improvements at fairgrounds with $1.6M of ARPA funds

As reported in LebTown last July, specific estimated project costs were as follows. 

The fair’s requested renovations/work and expenditures: 

  • Add 2,450 seats to the track area and make it code-compliant for wheelchair-accessible seating – $465,000.
  • Upgrade the track area lighting system, including the placement of eight new poles – $275,000.
  • Excavate, concrete, and landscape the track area – $160,000.

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

The funding designated through the expo center’s request:

  • Repave main entrance – $100,000
  • Repave the main parking lot and pave unpaved areas – $528,000

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

Last Friday, Kerwin said grandstand seating has expanded by about 280 feet, which increases seating capacity from 3,500 to 5,700. A portion of the old grandstand is still in use, added Kerwin. The new bleachers also improve public safety, since the area directly underneath the seats to the aluminum floor is fully enclosed. 

Pat Kerwin, executive director of the Lebanon Valley Exposition Center & Fairgrounds, in front of the new grandstands and a portion of the new lighting system that was recently installed. (James Mentzer)

“They have new regulations for the bleachers in terms of safety,” said Kerwin. “The new bleachers, you can’t see through them. You can’t slip through the new ones. They really like them tight now so a child can’t slip through them.” 

Kerwin said the new lighting system is another safety improvement in the grandstand area. Eight new light poles were erected, and new lighting was attached to them.

“The higher lights shine on the track while the lower lights shine on the stands, which makes it a little safer in the bleachers,” said Kerwin. “The new lighting is critical. The lighting was really bad. It was old. It was put in by my volunteers using old poles. The long-term thinking is that we will get greater use out of that facility by having it more user-friendly and handling greater capacity.” 

Kerwin said the macadam paving and repaving, whose final cost was $496,000, occurred last fall while the weather was still warm and dry. 

“A big portion of the paving was repaving the front lot,” said Kerwin. “Another thing is that the stone was not good for the cattle’s feet. You don’t want them to get a stone stuck in there, so we’re really happy that we now have these areas paved.”

The Lebanon Area Fair, the main annual attraction at the expo center, was first held in 1957.

The Lebanon Expo was first acquired in 1969 when the Lebanon Valley Exposition Corporation was formed to buy 52 acres of the old Alexander Bamberger Farm near the intersection of Rocherty and Cornwall roads in North Cornwall Township. The primary goal of the venture was to create a permanent site for the annual 4-H fair and FFA activities, which had been held at various sites throughout the county, according to the fair’s website. 

“It started out as a permanent location for the fair. And then, as they added buildings to accommodate the fair, they started renting them out the other weeks the fair isn’t here, which is 51 weeks out of the year,” noted Kerwin. 

Today, the Expo Center is a destination for visitors who come from near and far to attend one of the many events held there throughout the year.

“We have two to three events a week, so I would say we have about 150 events here the other (non-fair) weeks,” said Kerwin. 

Kerwin noted numerous times during his conversation with LebTown how grateful he is that the Expo Center and fair were selected to receive a portion of the county’s ARPA funding. 

“This is good for the fair. It is good for the Expo Center. And it is good for the people of Lebanon County,” he said.

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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...