SCRC completes renovation of picnic pad

Before the snow came down, the Sauk Centre Rotary Club put the final touches on their latest multi-year community shelter renovation, fixing up the Stearns County Fairground’s picnic pad. With its new color scheme, tables and benches, hand sanitizer station, enclosed roof, LED lighting and concrete base, the structure will be ready for visitors and their food truck treats once the snows melt away in 2023.

“This place gets used a lot,” said Darron Nelson with the SCRC. “It is a popular place for people to grab their concessions and be out of the sun. It’s handicap accessible, which helps.”

The Stearns County Fairgrounds approached the SCRC around 2018, knowing the club had done work on other community shelters in the past. To fund the project, the SCRC got a grant through the Rotary Foundation as well as donations through the Sauk Centre Area Community Foundation, the Kranz Family Foundation, Stearns Electric’s Operation Round Up and the Stearns County Fair Board.

Proceeds from the SCRC’s spring rose and caramel sale and their summer 50/50 raffle and golf tournament also went toward the fairground shelter renovation.

“We’re very grateful to all of the people who supported the raffle and rose and caramel sale,” said Logan Gruber with the SCRC. “Those have always been very good for our club.”

The first phase of the project, undertaken in 2019, costed around $12,000 and involved adding a concrete pad, metal tables, a sunscreen station, more structural support and the blue and white color scheme. All of those features were added before the events of 2020 slowed the Rotary Club’s progress, particularly affecting their fundraising mechanisms.

Returning to the project this year, the SCRC turned their attention to everything above the tables. They finished the project by adding the enclosed ceiling, the LED lights with a switch and the Rotary and sponsor logos.

“The top phase that just got done, it was open to the ceiling, and the barn swallows would get up in there,” said Mike Traeger with the SCRC. “There used to be lights in here, but the lightbulbs would have to be taken out before kids would come and smash them during the year; then, it gets into the gravel, and who can see lightbulb shards in gravel?”

In 2021, the SCRC got some experience in adding a ceiling and lights by renovating the Sinclair Lewis Park shelter.

“As we were doing the first stage of this (fairground shelter) process, while we were here working on it, we thought, man, would it be nice to have this all fully enclosed?” Nelson said. “We didn’t really know what that would look like, but then we did the Sinclair Lewis (Park) project, and wow did it make a change to that shelter, so the next stage was to complete this at the Stearns County Fairgrounds.”

The SCRC’s shelter construction experience also includes the Sinclair Lewis Park gazebo and a trailhead shelter in West Union, a joint project with Glenwood and Alexandria.

The fairground shelter’s first stage relied on about 20 volunteers, but the number varied depending on the stage. They needed to paint, tear out old wood, assemble the picnic tables, take care of minor landscaping and more.

“The day we were over here painting, that was two to three hours, and there were 10 of us for that point of the project,” Nelson said.

A&H Concrete handled the concrete work, basically donating their labor. Kostreba Contracting and Engle Electric also donated their services.

The new picnic tables have also seen use outside the fairgrounds. When the Stearns County Fair was canceled in 2020, a bar in uptown Sauk Centre used them for a while.

The shelter’s sunscreen station is part of an SCRC broader initiative started in 2019.

“There are a couple of those around town,” Gruber said. “That was included for the fairgoers.”

The SCRC does not have any similar projects lined up at this time. They are also reaching out to other area clubs to see if they have any collaborative initiatives in mind.

“We’re trying to rebuild the fundraising mechanisms after the pandemic, so as far as shelters go, it’s more maintenance mode at the moment,” Gruber said.