CDB releases some fairgrounds documents

Doug Finke

State officials turned over some documents about maintenance and capital needs at the Illinois State Fairgrounds Monday, but not the detailed list sought by Rep. Raymond Poe, R-Springfield.

Among the documents given to Poe by the Capital Development Board was a list of three fairgrounds projects that could get under way after July 1 if a new capital construction bill is approved.

However, a building-by-building assessment of the fairgounds’ condition was not provided.

“We came to an understanding about that,” said CDB Executive Director Jan Grimes after an hourlong private meeting in Poe’s office. “It is preliminary information that was not in condition to be shared at this point.”

Grimes then said she had another meeting to attend and walked away.

Poe, who filed a House resolution demanding the maintenance information, said he was expecting to get the detailed analysis but is willing to give the CDB more time.

“I understand she needed a little more time to analyze that information better,” he said. “I’m going to give them a little more time. I’m not sure how long.”

During Monday’s meeting, Grimes talked about the information not being available until August, Poe said.

“That’s a long time. I still think questions have to get answered,” he said. “Is there another situation that’s going to happen that we ought to be aware of so we don’t have an emergency?”

Poe sought maintenance records and other documents after a series of electrical failures forced officials to virtually close the fairgrounds to the public, displacing dozens of events scheduled between early February and mid-May. Losing just three of the events cost the city an estimated $750,000 in economic activity.

The information sought by Poe is part of a statewide assessment the CDB is conducting on 9,400 state-owned properties. The report is supposed to detail the condition of those properties and recommendations for future capital and maintenance work. The state hired Vanderweil Facility Advisors of Boston for $3.62 million to conduct the assessment.

When Poe requested the information a month ago, the CDB said it had to digest thousands of pages of raw data, including engineering reports, into a readable report. However, Poe said he was told by the CDB that they could do that.

Rep. Rich Brauer, R-Petersburg, also attended Monday’s meeting. He said the information compiled thus far is “more of a database,” and that Grimes expressed concern about the accuracy of some of that data.

“She said they’re not going to throw that out as a report when we see there’s a lot of errors (and) before we have a chance to go over that,” Brauer recalled.

CDB spokesman Dave Blanchette said later that Grimes was specifically citing the electrical problems.  The consultant reviewed the electrical system at the fairgrounds before the underground high-voltage cable failed in February.

“We have to revise the data connected with that,” Blanchette said. “The reason the data shouldn’t be used right now is each state agency must look at the raw data and provide revisions as needed.  That has not been done.”

Another meeting attendee, Sen. Larry Bomke, R-Springfield, said he came away disappointed.

“What we were looking for is what maintenance has been done, and is it lack of maintenance that caused the (electrical) problem,” Bomke said. “I don’t know that we were able to determine that. I don’t know if we will ever know if it was lack of maintenance that caused the problem. I don’t know that they really addressed those questions.”

What was turned over to Poe was 19 pages of maintenance projects undertaken by fairgrounds staff since 2002. The work ranges from painting projects to construction of ATM kiosks and picnic tables at Ethnic Village by the carpentry staff to new water heaters in several buildings and water-main repairs by the plumbing staff.

The CDB also listed three major projects that could get under way next year if a capital bill wins legislative approval. They include $1.4 million to replace the leaky roof on the Department of Agriculture building, $3.2 million to replace the building’s heating and air-conditioning system and $5.75 million to replace the above-ground electrical system on the grounds.

Replacement of the secondary electrical system wasn’t slated to begin until 2010, but the CDB decided to move up the project, Blanchette said.

Doug Finke can be reached at (217) 788-1527.