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Meager maintenance is no longer cutting it

State fairgrounds falls into disrepair

Illinois is spending more than a half million dollars to repair leaky roofs at the state fairgrounds in Springfield, officials announced last week. Those repairs are long overdue and an appropriate use of limited state dollars intended for capital improvements.

As with so much of the property and infrastructure overseen by Illinois, the aging fairgrounds has fallen into disrepair through the years as the state’s budget for maintenance and repairs has shrunk. Peeling paint, pothole-laden roads, and leaking roofs are some of the more visible signs of neglect. Maintenance workers have done a Herculean job of patching and fixing the problems the best they can with limited funds and manpower.

The fairgrounds and other state buildings are limping along, as the state tries to address the most pressing – and, by then, usually the most expensive – problems on an emergency basis.

At the fairgrounds, for example, the state spent $183,000 in fiscal year 2009 on emergency grandstand roof repairs and an emergency transformer replacement project.

The state had a mess on its hands in early 2008, when an underground electrical outage at the fairgrounds forced a 3-month shutdown of the venue and led to the cancellation of major shows and events. A report after the outage estimated it would take $89 million to bring the fairgrounds up to date on its aboveground electrical system, roof and building repairs, new plumbing fixtures, and refinishing floors.

Those kinds of repairs are not unexpected at such a vast and historic venue as the 360-acre fairgrounds. The problem is the state does not provide enough money to keep up with maintenance so that emergencies don’t turn into expensive disasters.

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