The Illinois Department of Agriculture has closed the Coliseum at the Illinois State Fairgrounds, based on structural deficiencies inside the Coliseum as reported by a private engineering firm.
Two beams fell or were dislodged two weeks ago, and the engineering study revealed Tuesday that two structural columns had rusted away at their base, along with the anchor bolts, and were merely resting on their concrete foundations, according to fair officials speaking on background.
FOUNDATION: During the 2016 Illinois State Fair Ag Day Breakfast, Gov. Bruce Rauner announced the formation of the Illinois Fairgrounds Foundation, whose goal will be to raise private money to make repairs to fairground facilities.
For safety reasons, the department has decided to close the facility until the appropriate repairs can be made.
"This decision is to protect visitors and livestock who use the Coliseum, but highlights the years of neglect by the previous administrations," says Agriculture Director Raymond Poe. "The Band-Aid approach to repairs on our state fairgrounds cannot continue, and underscores why I fought for many years for a fairgrounds foundation as an innovative way to invest in our fairgrounds. The fairgrounds' infrastructure needs significant investment to protect our fairgoers, exhibitors, visitors and employees."
Poe adds that it’s been more than a decade since the Department of Agriculture received a capital budget to fund repairs on the fairgrounds. “For years, only emergency repairs have been funded through the Capital Development Board,” he reports.
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In the meantime, two events are scheduled in the Coliseum in the near future and will be relocated. The Mid-America Mane Event Horse Show scheduled for this weekend will move to the covered practice arena south of the Coliseum. The ALQMA Quarter Midget Races are scheduled for next weekend, and a new location has not been announced.
With major renovations needed on the Coliseum roof, fair officials question whether the Coliseum can be repaired and reopened in time for the 2017 Illinois State Fair. Reports indicate that while new shingles were installed during the late '90s or early 2000s, the subroofing was not replaced, causing leaks throughout the structure. Built in 1901, the Coliseum saw its last major remodel in 1958.
"Infrastructure investments are critical to the state fairgrounds and its future success," says Jodi Golden, executive director of the Illinois Capital Development Board. "Our hope is that through the work of the state fair foundation, some of the deferred maintenance issues which have been mounting for dozens of years will be addressed."
IDOA is currently waiting on the final engineering report from the Capital Development Board to determine the extent of damage, best course of action and estimated timeline for closure.
Editor’s note: Holly Spangler is a member of the newly formed Illinois Fairgrounds Foundation board of directors.