GRAND ISLAND, Neb. — The final piece of the original plan for the Nebraska State Fairgrounds will be built this year.
On Friday, the Nebraska State Fair announced plans for a $5.4 million building that will add exhibition space and headquarters for fair staff.
Executive Director Joseph McDermott said construction of the Nebraska Building will begin within 30 days and is to be completed by Jan. 1, 2014. He said most of the cost will be financed by locally owned Nebraska banks.
McDermott said the original plan for the State Fair building complex included the Nebraska Building along with the Swine Barn, Cattle Barn, Five Points Bank Arena, Sheep Barn, 4-H/FFA Building and Exhibition Building.
“Because of early budget concerns, the Nebraska Building was put on hold until such time as the Nebraska State Fair was up and running,” he said.
The Nebraska Building will be just inside the main State Fair Boulevard entrance, just north of the Exhibition Building and west of the Family Fun Zone.
McDermott said the building will have 54,000 square feet of exhibition space on the ground level and 10,800 square feet for the fair's administrative offices on the upper level.
“The Nebraska State Fair has experienced a shortage of exhibition space, with an unprecedented exhibitor waiting list since 2010,” McDermott said. “This will open up approximately 23,000 square feet of additional space in the Exhibition Building for commercial exhibitors and sponsors.”
McDermott said the Nebraska Building will differ from other fair buildings in that the fair will operate and maintain it year-round. Under the fair's lease arrangement with Fonner Park, the State Fair controls the other buildings from Aug. 1 to Sept. 30. The rest of the year, Fonner Park is responsible for maintenance and bookings.
“Talks are under way with noncompeting groups that might be interested in leasing the exhibition space on the ground floor for 10 months out of the year when not in use by the State Fair,” he said.
McDermott said the Nebraska Building will feature a museum with 144 years of fair information and artifacts.
The Nebraska Building also will allow the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission's return to the fair, McDermott said.
“Fairgoers may recall this organization's participation with aquariums of Nebraska fish, archery, target shooting and other exhibits when the fair was in Lincoln,” he said. “The commission's involvement was wildly popular in Lincoln, and we are very excited to have them back.”
Game and Parks Director James Douglas said the commission also hopes to have a shooting range for .22-caliber rifles, as it did in Lincoln.
Game and Parks' presence in the Nebraska Building could go beyond the 11-day run of the fair.
“I think one of the really appealing things about the new building is that it will provide an opportunity for us to utilize the facility beyond the State Fair time for some outdoor education,” Douglas said.
He said the University of Nebraska-Lincoln will be another partner in the Nebraska Building, and he sees some joint projects during the off-season.
Ronnie Green, vice chancellor for the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources, said UNL is excited to use the Nebraska Building to educate people about Nebraska's agriculture industry and UNL's role in it.
Working with Cooperative Extension, UNL hopes to develop year-round exhibits about Nebraska agriculture.