Fair stage-collapse reports may not arrive until April

October 18, 2011

Two high-level investigations into the fatal Indiana State Fair stage collapse may not be released in time to help prepare for next year's fair, the fair's director said Tuesday.

Indiana State Fair Executive Director Cindy Hoye told a group of lawmakers that information from separate investigations into the stage collapse that killed seven people may not be complete until mid-April. The state has typically done much of its work for its three-week-long summer fair by that point.

The state hired international engineers Thornton Tomasetti to investigate the wreckage of the stage. The state also hired Witt Associates to assess the fair's emergency preparations. Witt has completed much of its work but will wait until the engineers complete their investigation before issuing a report together with them, Hoye said.

"We're progressing right now with looking at our emergency preparations, we're doing a lot of front end work," Hoye said after the meeting. "I think that report will clarify and put a snapshot on some of the things we need to do."

It's unclear how the timing of the investigations' release will affect the fair's negotiations with performers or the securing of a new stage. Documents released by the state fair last month show that the contract for the stage didn't become official until July, but the state already had a longstanding relationship with Mid-America Sound, the owner of the stage.

Negotiations with Sugarland were ongoing at least through the start of 2011, even though the band never signed a final contract. Performers looking at playing next year's fair may have to wait until the middle of the spring to get key answers from the investigations.

The fair will also have to decide whether it will contract with Mid-America Sound again, find another contractor or buy a new stage. Key specifications for the integrity of any stage would likely be included in the Thornton Tomasetti investigation results.

Hoye said she will know more how the state will deal with the investigation results after the fair puts together its budget for the next year in a few months.

"We are just in the throes of programming and the throes budgeting and so that will be in a couple of months and then we will be able to respond to that," she said.

Indiana lawmakers will likely go their entire 2012 session without answers from the investigations, possibly stalling efforts to pass legislation in response to the stage collapse.

"I believe in not doing a knee-jerk reaction until we get the facts," said Rep. Bob Cherry, R-Greenfield, chairman of the legislature's state fair advisory committee, which Hoye spoke to Tuesday morning. The group will likely not meet again until after next year's legislative session, he said.

Rep. Ed DeLaney, D-Indianapolis, said lawmakers should consider launching their own investigation to consider how to handle this issue in January, but noted there's no tradition in Indiana of state lawmakers conducting their own investigations.

"'What happened?' and 'How do we adjust our laws?'" DeLaney said. "My belief is the Legislature is empowered to investigate that now, we don't need to wait for somebody else's investigation."

Fair officials estimated last week that two outside investigations of the collapse will cost $975,000 by the end of the year.

IBJ reported Sept. 9 that the state is likely to face seven-figure bills to pay for the investigation.



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