Christopher Heidger submitted this photo from the Little Big Town concert held Aug. 4 at the Washington Town and Country Fair.

A permanent stage may soon be built at the Washington fairgrounds.

The Washington Parks Commission Thursday night recommended moving forward with funding a permanent main stage, restrooms and multipurpose facility at the city’s fairgrounds north of Lions Lake.

Ron Unnerstall, vice president of Washington Engineering & Architecture, P.C., detailed the plans his firm developed.

The proposed project would put a flat, concrete slab with a metal backdrop to be used as a permanent stage near where the current temporary stage is set up each year for the Washington Town and Country Fair.

Unnerstall said having a permanent stage with concrete tie-downs would make it as safe as possible.

“It will be the safest structure we have on the fairgrounds,” he said.

Incorporated in the building design are dressing rooms, handicapped-accessible restrooms, and multiple rooms for storage and other uses.

Unnerstall said the usable space would be roughly 1,800 square feet.

He noted the stage itself also will be handicapped accessible.

“It’s not elaborate, but it is multipurpose. It’s just right for the size Fair we have,” said Unnerstall, adding that the building will help the Fair attract big-name acts.

“This upgrades the Fair to where we can continue to get big-time entertainment,” he said.

Unnerstall said his firm donated design work to help kick-start the project.

‘Good for the City’

Dale Westhoff, this year’s Fair chairman, said the proposed building is a community project, noting that during the rest of the year, the building can be used to hold a variety of functions.

Sparky Stuckenschneider, Park commission vice president, said the project would be good for the city, not just the Fair and the parks department.

“It’s very important for us to go forward with it,” he said.

Westhoff said the Chamber will ask the city council to approve the project this Monday, Feb. 6.

“We hope to start this by April, as it will be at least a three-month project,” he said.

Westhoff estimated the total cost at $550,000 to $600,000.

“We are still waiting on a few things to finalize the plans,” he said.

The Chamber has pledged $250,000 previously to the main stage project.

Brian Boehmer, assistant city administrator, said the city has allocated $210,000 for the proposed project. That money will come from revenue from the city’s half-cent capital improvement sales tax budgeted for 2011-2012.

More Money Available

“We have $100,000 in the budget for restrooms on the east side of the riverfront trail. We could forego that,” Boehmer noted.

He said the two portable stalls on the east end of the trail currently “are pretty functional.”

“I don’t want my point to be mistaken — we’re not going to cut the restrooms (at the trail) out, but push it back. If we use this $100,000, we can see what’s left at the end of the tax or maybe work with the Rotary somewhere down the line,” Boehmer said.

He noted that finding a site for the restrooms on the trail, in an area that has flooded frequently in the past, would be another issue.

“My thought isn’t to cut it, but if we need the money for the (stage and restrooms) project, it’s there,” Boehmer said.

Looking at Options

Commission member Bill Kackley said he hopes the city council will “look at its much larger budget” to come up with some additional funding.

If the additional $100,000 was available, funding for the project between the city and Chamber would total $560,000.

Westhoff said estimates haven’t been separated to determine the cost of building just the restrooms versus the rest of the building.

The Chamber and Fair board could look for volunteers to donate labor to help lower the overall cost of the project, he said, as well as finding a sponsor for the stage.

A sponsor would help pay part of the cost for the stage in return for having it named after them or their business.

Unnerstall, who served on the Fair Board for many years and was a Fair chairman himself in the 1990s, said a permanent stage has been proposed for years.

The stage used for the Fair now is a temporary one. It was built in 1993.

Unnerstall said the disaster at the Indiana State Fair on Aug. 13, 2011, is part of the reason entities, including the Washington Chamber of Commerce and the Fair Board, are looking at permanent stages.

Seven people were killed and 43 injured in the tragedy in Indianapolis, Ind.