Nebraska State Fair approves project estimates for ARPA-funded Fonner Park upgrade

The Nebraska State Fair board on Friday approved project estimates for planned upgrades to Grand Island’s Fonner Park using American Rescue Plan Act funds.

Although $20 million in the state grant was awarded by the Nebraska legislature to improve drainage, Olsson Engineering’s early project estimate for the project is approximately $28 million.

At Friday’s meeting were Olsson Team Leader Matt Rief and Associate Engineer Brian Friedrichsen. The two have detailed plans for each of the three areas of the fairgrounds, which will meet the requirements of the Nebraska Department of Environment & Energy.

NDEE is managing the project as a state revolving fund, which is used for water treatment and sewage systems, said board vice chairman Dawn Caldwell.

“That means we have to meet a lot of certain criteria regarding how we can use those dollars, and those criteria all fall under the clean water type things,” she said.

The project is led by a $59 million master plan for the park that was announced in December. The effort brought together the City of Grand Island, Grand Island Area Chamber of Commerce, Grand Island Livestock Complex Authority, Fonner Park, Nebraska State Fair, and the 1868 Foundation.

“It was very important that we all look at it together, because we have city properties. We’ve involved all of Fonner Park’s properties. The 1868 Foundation led the master plan. And the State Fair, which received the ARPA grant,” Caldwell said

The project is divided into three zones. Zone 1 comprises the stables for livestock farming and new construction and from the west to the edge of the site, including maintenance buildings. Suggested upgrades include reconfiguration, a stone/gravel driveway and grassed parking.

Olsson suggested paved aisles with grass parking in between. The pavement would facilitate the necessary rain sewers. The grass car park will be graded so that it can be paved later if necessary.

Rainwater will be pushed to bioswales, which would filter water using rocks and native grasses, and possibly some trees

“One of the things that is required through ARPA for this is to do some green infrastructure. That helps some of this runoff and allows for some detention there,” Rief said.

Zone 1 is estimated at $13 million.

Zone 2 occupies the center of the fairgrounds, from the event center to the south. Olsson suggested a sewer drain to facilitate drainage, and drainage structures to deal with water puddles that occur for toilets and storm sewers at Big Red Barn.

To the south, instead of bioswales, Olsson proposed rain gardens to improve pedestrian areas.

One goal for the zone is to divert water from city locks by expanding the detention cell in the southeast corner and adding a new outlet to the Wood River.

Zone 2 improvements and others are estimated to cost $10 million.

Zone 3 starts east of Big Red Barn and from the west side of the main race track. Similar water and sewer improvements and paved aisles were proposed, and a detention cell in the far northeast corner to allow some stormwater to filter out, with a proposed new drainage to a city moat. Solar lighting is also suggested.

Estimated cost for Zone 3 is $6 million.

Caldwell noted that the project has nothing to do with the parking lot to the north, the construction site for the proposed Elite Casino Resorts casino.

“Anything this is aimed at is really aimed at the state,” she emphasized.

Friedrichsen called the final estimate a “high-level figure.”

“By implementing some of that stormwater treatment, bioswales, permeable paving, it’s going to cost more money. Hopefully we’ve justified these to help you qualify,” he said. “As we move into design, we’re going to work within that $20 million budget.”

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