Fairgrounds work set to begin

After the midway, commercial buildings, grandstand and livestock barns closed Saturday night, a major infrastructure upgrade at the Bartholomew County Fairgrounds can proceed.

A $629,180 contract that allows the installation of new sanitary sewer service, electrical pedestals and water upgrades at the facility south of Garden City has now been signed by all involved parties.

For more than 20 years, county officials have attempted to find funding for the project, but came up empty-handed. But now, the entire project will be financed through federal COVID-19 relief funds provided through the American Rescue Plan.

The basic proposal submitted by winning bidder Kings Truck and Excavating of Seymour was $447,350. But fair board president and Bartholomew County Maintenance Director Rick Trimpe advocated for six optional projects valued at an additional $181,830.

While the basic bid called for extensive utility installations on the south side of the fairgrounds, optional work includes similar improvements on the north side. The additional upgrades also call for a lift station, as well as adding more sewer lines. The Bartholomew County commissioners unanimously agreed with Trimpe’s recommendation.

Originally, the county wanted the start of construction to begin early last spring and be completed by this week’s fair. But when bids were advertised twice in February, no contractor proposals were submitted by the deadline. That prompted the commissioners to ask Strand and Associates, a local engineering and consulting firm hired in December, to start making inquiries into the reasons.

Consulting engineer Steve Ruble reported back that no company was willing to work within the short deadline requested by the county because supply chain delays and labor shortages remain a significant problem, Ruble said.

After realizing the work could not be completed this year, the commissioners agreed to seek bids again and set a new deadline of March 1, 2023. The three months between completion and the 2023 fair will be needed to allow grass seed to grow in the construction area, Trimpe said.

Extending the timetable did the trick. A total of three bids were received when the deadline for the second round of bids arrived on May 2.

Even with the optional projects, Kings Trucking’s bid was still lower than the basic offers from two other bidders, the commissioners noted. Dave O’Mara Contractor, Inc. submitted a bid of $810,507 while Milestone Contractors of Columbus proposed doing all the infrastructure work for a little more than $1.1 million.

Although there is a significant difference between Kings winning bid and the cost of the other two proposals, an analysis shows the Seymour contractor fully understands the scope and complexity of the project, Ruble said.

However, county officials say there’s no reason why Kings Trucking and Excavating needs to start work immediately.

“They can get started whenever they have time,” county Commissioner Larry Kleinhenz said.

Most contractors in south central Indiana already have their hands full with better-paying private projects. On overlay projects, they will bid less on government contracts than they do on private projects with the understanding that there is little timetable pressure placed on them.

Bartholomew County Commissioner Tony London says he’s amazed that Bartholomew County is going to see a variety of positive results from the ARP dollars.

“It’s going to be something our kids and our grand kids are going to recognize,” London said.

“The ARP has taken a huge amount of pressure off the county’s general fund,” commissioners Chairman Carl Lienhoop said.

Although the utility upgrades are primarily for fair personnel and midway workers, they can also be used year-round to serve as a type of campground for recreational vehicles and campers. A significant fundraiser for the Bartholomew County 4-H Fair board involves renting facilities or property to individuals or organizations.