CHIPPEWA FALLS — The coliseum at the Northern Wisconsin State Fair has always been a special place in Pete Lehmann’s family.
“My uncle and aunt met up here,” Lehmann said. “They both showed Holsteins, and they stayed at the coliseum. Now that (the coliseum) is not here, it’s quite a change. It’s obviously a landmark you didn’t want to see go.”
The 100-year-old coliseum used to show animals was torn down April 10 after the entire roof shifted and moved. The walls immediately began to show signs of buckling. The decision was made to raze it before it became a hazard to people and adjacent buildings.
Lehmann, a Lake Hallie Village Board member and Chippewa Falls school board member, said his three children have shown animals in the coliseum over the past 15 years. This year, his daughter was among the hundreds of youths showing animals in a tent on the site of the coliseum.
“We make do with what we have,” Lehmann said. “We have nice weather now, so it’s working well as can be planned.”
It is unclear when the building will be replaced. Lehmann said the fair leadership needs to look at other fairgrounds around the state to see what they are building.
“We need to benchmark what has been successful in different counties,” Lehmann said. “Our community has shown they want a multi-functional building.”
Don Schesel of Stanley said he has attended the animal shows and auctions at the Northern Wisconsin State Fair for the past 35 years.
“My kids all showed in the coliseum, and now my kids’ kids are showing animals in the tent,” Schesel said. “I think it’s a huge thing for the young children, who don’t have farm backgrounds, to see the animals.”
Schesel said the tent is a decent temporary fix. He said more seating is needed, particularly bleachers, before the auction on Thursday night.
“Weather conditions are great today, but I’ve been here when it’s poured all day,” Schesel said. “If we had a storm, we wouldn’t be sitting here.”
Like Lehmann, Schesel pointed out that Clark County is looking at constructing a new animal building for its fairground, and so is the Wisconsin Valley Fair in Wausau.
“I hope (a new building) happens soon,” he said.
Schesel said that animals are a key part of any fair.
“It’s the idea of knowing how to take care of an animal, and show off what they’ve done,” Schesel said.
Jerry Clark, Chippewa County UW-Extension agriculture agent, said the tent is a good quick fix, but it is a smaller layout than what was in the coliseum.
“The community has done a great job for what they had to do for a contingency plan,” Clark said. “We had to change the showmanship, having to run two or three heats, rather than running them all at once.”
Clark agreed that the sooner a new building can be in place, the better.
“We’d like to see a new facility; that’s the goal of everyone, to have a new, well-ventilated building,” Clark said.
Overall, the 4-H and animal exhibits are on par with past years, Clark said.
“Where we’re down is dairy, and that’s reflective of the whole market,” he said.
Clark said it is startling to walk onto the grounds and not see the coliseum.
“It’s hard to get your orientation,” Clark said. “You look for that red, iconic building, and it’s not there.”
Natalie Schueller, 14, will be a freshman this fall at Chippewa Falls High School. She has shown animals at the fair for the past five years, including two hogs she entered for competition this year. She gave the tent a glowing review as a replacement.
“It was a little sad at first (to see the coliseum gone), but we have air flowing through here, and you can see everything well. It’s also easier to hear,” she said.
Fair director Rusty Volk couldn’t be reached for comment Tuesday, July 9. When the coliseum was demolished in April, Volk said he would begin working on fundraising and design plans.
In December 2014, Volk unveiled a proposal to construct a 65,000-square-foot multi-use community center that would be used for animal exhibits during the fair. However, the plan carried an estimated $6 million price tag. Volk has obtained drawings from local engineering firm CBS-Squared for the proposed event center, which would include a show ring with seating for 700, and a main floor room that can used for a variety of events throughout the year. The walls would be perhaps 24 feet tall, allowing large farm equipment to be displayed inside.