The future of the Essex County Fairgrounds building

Published: Sep. 6, 2021 at 2:13 PM EDT
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WESTPORT, N.Y. (WCAX) - To fix or not to fix? That is the question for the agricultural building at New York’s Essex County Fairgrounds.

“When you drive into Westport, this is the first building you see,” Westport Town Supervisor Ike Tyler said. “The architecture is something you could never replace if you lost it.”

The building has stood as a staple in the county since 1923, built to resemble George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate in Virginia. The agricultural building is listed on the historical landmarks registry. It’s now used by the Cornell Cooperative Extension in Essex County as their main headquarters.

“This building represents agriculture in Essex County,” Tyler said.

“It’s suffered decade on decade of neglect,” Essex County Board of Supervisors Chair Shaun Gillilland said.

Gillilland said the building is far from up to code. Asbestos has been found, electrical wiring is old and an immediate fire threat, it’s not ADA compliant, and he says the list goes on: “Fix the foundation, fix the roof, make it a four-season building, put in a proper heating system, re-plumb it, re-electrify it, put in a modern kitchen, meeting rooms, offices upstairs that the public has access, too.”

Attempts to secure historical grant money have been turned down because of the needed repairs to bring the building up to code. The Essex County Board of Supervisors said it will cost roughly $2.8 million to repair everything the building needs or $2 million to level it and rebuild from the ground up.

The county has applied for federal money to help with the project; that could give them close to $1 million to repair or rebuild.

“The priority of county government is to provide services to the citizens at an affordable cost,” said Gillilland.

Tyler said, “Structurally, this building is sound.”

He says Westport just went through a similar renovation to its Town Hall, costing a little over $800,000. He said the town used grant money to foot the bill and he expects with grants and volunteer work, it could be the same case for the fairgrounds building.

“Before we did that project, I might have been apprehensive about doing more projects like this,” said Tyler. “But, it’s a brand new building and it’s good for another hundred years.”

The county says if keeping the building is important to the community, the community needs to step up and partner with the county to fund the project.

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