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Riding toward the finish

The design for the Stark County Fairgrounds will feature a rodeo arena with a 2,500-seat main grandstand. The current rodeo arena at Dickinson State University will be moved to the site to serve as a practice space. (Graphic by JLG Arcitects)

After decades of dreaming, the Stark County Fairgrounds is now about a summer away from reality.

With the earthwork just about completed and much of the red tape squared away, Stark County Fair Board President Lee Ann Karsky said construction of the fairgrounds and rodeo arena south of Dickinson will begin in full sometime next week with a completion target of September.

“Our permit should be in this week so they can start putting in foundations,” Karsky said. “Everything was bid, and it’s ready to go and physically get started.”

Karsky said there were “probably 20 different” bid-outs completed by the project’s construction manager, Mike Jangula of Scull Construction, to account for the various pieces of the facility.

The total cost of construction for the project is now slated at $5.3 million. Of that, $1.7 million has already been spent to purchase the site, which is an 89-acre parcel of land off of Highway 22 in the south end of Dickinson’s extraterritorial zone.

On May 3, the Stark County Park Board reached that total cost when it approved $400,000 in spending to be used to complete the rodeo arena’s 2,500-seat permanent grandstands.

Park Board Chair Arnie Binek made the request for the funds in that meeting and said Friday that the final product will also have portable bleachers capable of seating 500 spectators.

He said the timing of the project helped its planners save on costs.

“One of the things that really helped us out was the downturn of the oil industry,” Binek said. “In affording a lot of the contracts, we were able to save quite a bit of money because the contractors got a little cheaper and more competitive.”

Last summer, Grand Forks-based firm JLG Architects won the bid for the design of the fair grounds. Rob Remark, JLG's marketing leader for the Dickinson region, said the bidding for the contractor side of the project has “all come in on-time and under-budget.”

While Remark couldn’t say for sure whether his firm had ever specifically designed a rodeo arena, he did say JLG has done work on a number of different event centers and other fairground projects.

The driving idea behind the Stark County Fairgrounds, Remark said, was to create a widely usable space.

“Their vision was really on versatility, on doing the arena portion the right way to be the kind of anchor to the successful development of the whole fairgrounds and event center site,” he said.

Chief among the fairgrounds’ duties will be hosting the mid-summer Roughrider Days Fair and Expo activities. The popular late June and early July event series, which include a three-day PRCA rodeo, has been hosted at the Dickinson State University rodeo grounds for several years. Events will move south next year when the new fairgrounds are completed.

In addition to Roughrider Days, the new arena will also host the DSU rodeo team.

The student athletes of that team will soon be displaced from their current rodeo grounds on the university campus by early work on the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum, an ambitious project that would dramatically reshape the site with extensive earthwork and construction.

Chip Poland, chair of DSU’s Department of Agriculture and Technical Studies and a rodeo team adviser, said the Roughrider Commission, the group behind the fair and expo of the same name, had hosted a meeting last Wednesday with various stakeholders to discuss usage of the new arena.

Poland said that, prior to the meeting, he’d been concerned with the potential cost of using a non-DSU facility. Afterward, he said he felt more “assured” that the boards behind the fairgrounds weren’t “necessarily looking at this as a money-making operation for them.”

The current rodeo grounds on campus will likely be dismantled starting in mid-July, Poland said, and will be moved south to the fairgrounds be reassembled in time for use in late August to prepare the team for the fall rodeo season.

Binek said DSU’s rodeo team will continue to practice in their old arena and will use the main space for its rodeos. Along with the above-ground structure of the DSU arena will come the ground itself.

“We’ll even move the dirt from the old arena out to the new arena,” Binek said, adding that the county and Roughrider Commission had invested in enhancing it for performance. “When you have (Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association rodeos, you want everything to be perfect.”

Andrew Haffner

Andrew Haffner covers higher education and general assignment stories for the Grand Forks Herald. He attended the University of Wisconsin in Madison, where he studied journalism, political science and international studies. He previously worked at the Dickinson Press.

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