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Defects prompt closure of county fair grandstands

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A central Indiana county faces a big bill to replace its fairground's grandstand after numerous safety problems were found during an inspection prompted by this summer's deadly state fair stage collapse.

Inspectors found that parts of the steel superstructure of the Delaware County Fairgrounds' grandstand had rusted through, some support plates hovered above their bases, and wood and asphalt bases had collapsed.

County Commissioner Larry Bledsoe said that the 3,000-seat grandstand is "absolutely off limits to everybody," until it is fixed.

"Knowing what dangers are there, we cannot allow anybody to be in the grandstands at this point," Bledsoe told The Star Press for a story Thursday.

County fair board President Jim Mansfield said the grandstand was built around 1952 and that the cost of demolition and replacement is estimated at $900,000.

Bledsoe said he was uncertain how the county government — which this year cut millions from its budget and laid off workers — would pay for the grandstand's replacement and that it is possible sponsors might be sought for sections of new bleachers.

The roof over the grandstand is in good shape and does not need replacing, officials said. The grandstand seating area is a free-standing scaffolding system separate from the roof.

The collapse of a fabric roof and metal rigging above the stage at the Indiana State Fair on Aug. 13 killed seven and injured more than 40 people.

Mansfield said that fair board members decided to have the fairgrounds property inspected for structural integrity and safety after the August collapse at the state fairgrounds in Indianapolis, where strong winds blew stage rigging onto concert fans, killing seven people and injuring dozens more.

Bledsoe said he hoped that the construction of a new grandstand would attract a high school marching band contest back to the county fair. The contest traditionally draws large crowds.

"We have other uses for the grandstand, so we want to get it done as the warm season rolls around," Bledsoe said. "The fairgrounds brings economic development to Muncie and it's important we recognize that."

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