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By Andi Bourne
Pathfinder 

Fairgrounds Revitalization Bond placed on General Election Ballot

 

August 11, 2022



MISSOULA — Missoula County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously July 28 to place a Missoula County Fairgrounds Revitalization Bond on the November 2022 General Election ballot after hearing testimony from fairgrounds supporters at a public hearing July 28.

The ballot measure will give Missoula County voters the opportunity to support long-planned improvements to the fairgrounds, including construction of a new Agriculture & Livestock Arena and a third sheet of NHL-sized ice. The proposed bond is for $19 million. This translates to $14.88 annually for a home with an assessed value of $200,000, or $29.76 annually for a home with an assessed value of $400,000.

In the presentation, the Commissioners were told participation in ice sports and agriculture education programs are at an all-time high and the new facilities will help provide more space in order to meet growing public demand.

“This is a big step,” 4-H board member Jon Turner said. “Community members have been planning these improvements for more than 20 years and we’re glad voters will now have the opportunity to help put them into action.”

Activities at the Fairgrounds attract thousands of participants and spectators each year, Turner said, whether it’s the annual fair, hockey, figure skating, curling, 4-H and FFA and recreational skating.

“The Fairgrounds has been a community gathering place for more than 100 years and it’s more popular than ever,” Turner said. “The improvements will help us meet this growing demand.”

More than 400 Missoula County youth participate in 4-H and FFA each year, learning about not only agriculture but also dozens of other topics, including public speaking, leadership, food science, civic engagement and tech.

Meanwhile, Glacier Ice Rink sees more than 110,000 total visits from Missoula County residents and others each year. This includes 10,000 public program participants; almost 2,000 people in the youth and adult hockey programs, 300+ involved in figure skating, and 1,200 spectators for each of the Griz hockey team’s home games.

Glacier Ice Rink Board President Ryan Yearous said the planned improvements will allow even more participation in such events and programs by providing needed additional space.

“All programs haven’t been able to increase capacity, nor offer year-round ice and agricultural activities due to the limitations of our facilities,” he said. “Each summer we need to melt the ice so the rinks can serve as animal exhibit areas during the fair.“

Having a separate ag pavilion and a third sheet of ice will allow for year-round ice sports and recreation space and a dedicated space for agricultural education is expected to help boost 4-H and FFA participation by 50% - 100%.

“This investment from the community also will allow the Fairgrounds to host more events that draw in more people from throughout Missoula County and beyond,” Yearous said.

Missoula Voice received six comments on the proposed bond prior to the hearing. Four comments spoke in favor of the bond. Two opposed with one stating that they support 4-H, ag programs, ice sports and the fairgrounds but homeowners are overtaxed and overburdened.

Everyone at the hearing July 28 spoke in favor of the bond.

Garry Swain, Seeley Lake resident, Council member, President of Seeley Lake ROCKS and regular skater at Glacier Ice Rink, spoke in support of the improvements that would be funded through the proposed bond. However, he challenged the Commissioners to open the dialogue to the financial and geographical limitations that would need to be addressed to really extend the benefit of year round ice to Seeley residents.

Currently ROCKS maintains an outdoor sheet of ice from mid-December through mid-March near Seeley Lake Elementary. Skates, nets and skating aids are provided at no cost. Swain highlighted the program has been helpful to introduce students and families to skating but can only do so much with weather-dependent ice and a limited season.

“I completely believe the expansion would benefit Seeley but I would encourage thoughtful and holistic approach to invitation and inclusion,” Swain said.

Swain encouraged tapping into resources like ROCKS and Seeley Lake Elementary to establish links between the outdoor skating and the additional benefits of year-round indoor skating on great ice. Considering youth scholarships, summer skating camps and transportation are things that should be addressed.

Potomac Valley 4-H member and Missoula FFA Chapter sophomore Leah Nelson spoke in favor of the bond. She grew up in 4-H and has realized the opportunities it and now FFA has to build her personal growth and skills including public speaking, leadership and time and money management through her sheep projects.

“There are few better ways to learn lessons of service, responsibility and selflessness than through raising and caring for livestock,” Nelson said.

Nelson feels the expansion of the arena and livestock areas will offer opportunity for more Missoula County students. It would allow them to host ag-related events, such as competitions and clinics, boosting the economy of Missoula year round. And having a dedicated facility would provide the proper setting to house livestock and allow for the level of safety and security showman and livestock should have during the fair.

“A dedicated ag and livestock facility would absolutely benefit the entire county and provide the chance to expand positive inputs of 4-H and FFA in our community,” Nelson said.

Heather Wills, livestock producer from Potomac, shared her family story about her time in 4-H, spending 21 years of her life at the fairgrounds one week a year. There were lots of different barns where animals and showmen were housed.

“The idea of putting us all in one building, one place, where we can all gather and learn is a true benefit for the future of agriculture.”

She felt the proposed Ag and Livestock Facility would provide opportunities to host regional competitions and classes. Also with the stockyards always seeming to be for sale, maybe this new facility could allow area breeders to sell their bulls there as well.

“If you know me, you know I would never want to raise taxes on myself or our operation so you know how valuable this would be to me and my family,” Wills said.

Advocates also plan to do significant private fundraising to supplement the public investment in the fairgrounds.

 

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