S.D. State Fairgrounds, consistently improving


HURON — It has not been difficult to keep track of the continuing work taking place on the Dakota Event CompleX - what we all call the “DEX” as it has grown from a bare patch of lumpy earth into what is nearly an enclosed building.

The DEX, however, is but a portion — granted a large portion — of what is taking place on the S.D. State Fairgrounds, as it prepares to host this year’s fall classic, beginning Aug. 31.

Peggy Besch, the manager of the fair, and the fairgrounds, took some time earlier this month to outline a few of the ‘behind the scenes’ improvements taking place, or planned before fairgoers begin streaming onto the grounds.

“We have a lot of different projects going on right now, or set to begin when the ground thaws,” Besch said. “Two of the largest projects are infrastructure, which most people won’t ever see, but which will benefit the fairgrounds for years and years.”

First up is a new water line, which is being connected to a water main on Nevada Ave., on the east side of the fairgrounds. The four-inch line is being replaced with one that is six-inches, mostly to make sure that the east side of the fairgrounds - and the DEX in particular - has a sufficient water supply for the expected increased demand and to make sure the fire suppression sprinklers in the new building are fed.

The other major infrastructure improvement involves a new sewer line, on Recreation Ave., a north-south passage through the heart of the fairgrounds. For perspective, the line will run between the Women’s Building and the Horticulture Building, connecting with the large city sewer line on Third Street.

“We hope to have the sewer line project started immediately following this year’s fair,” Besch noted.

The Women’s Building has seen and will continue to see improvements, both inside and out.

“Last year the building got a complete electrical updating,” Besch said. “New panels, new lights and such. This year, we chose a new color palette and are almost finished with the repainting. We continue to have people interested in renting the building for functions and this upgrade will make it better for people with events and the state fair as well.”

“We are having new bathrooms built in the Tech Center as we speak, which will allow it to become ADA accessible.” Besch said. “There is also a name change coming in the future on the Tech Center/Family Living Center, but that won’t take place before this year’s fair.”

There is a new roof going up over the Farm Bureau/Dakotaland Stage, on Third Street and Livestock Ave., where, among other events, the Miss State Fair competition is held each year.

Some smaller, mostly cosmetic projects remain on the state fair grandstand, which saw a major renovation in 2018, for its 100th birthday. “We still want to address the facade and the concessions area,” Besch said.

Also in the ‘very early discussion and planning’ stage are potential upgrades to campgrounds. During the fair, there are nearly 2,000 camping spaces available.

Crews continue to tie together the roof trusses and columns on the DEX, while others continue the process of attaching steel siding to the exterior of the 150,000 square foot building.

And then there is the DEX.

The new building became necessary when the Beef Complex was consumed by fire in 2020.

Fundraising took place and, with the funds from insurance and from the state, plans were drawn for the 200,000 square foot center, which features two indoor performance rings for events, and will house all cattle during the state fair.

Affected by a combination of a worldwide pandemic, altered supply lines and an increase of materials across the board, the project was scaled back by 50,000 square feet and extra capitol was approved during this year’s legislative session.

“It’s going to be quite impressive in the end,” said Besch as we toured the exterior of the building.

“We just had a contractor meeting and we lost about a month due to weather over the winter. But they are fairly certain that the building will be completed on time, but we can’t afford to lose any more days. Our general contractor, Henry Carlson Contracting, has been a joy to work with, along with a tremendous list of sub contractors.”

On the schedule for the DEX is the National American Junior Gelbveith Show in the first week in July, which Besch said will bring in livestock producers from across the country to Huron.

As we watched, two lifts were hoisting beams up to use as connecting pieces for the already placed columns and trusses. A portion of the roof and sidewalls are still waiting to receive their metal skins. But while the outside work progresses, the inside is a beehive of activity.

“Several of the electrical panels are set, the sprinkler lines for fire suppression is being installed and some of the light fixtures are in place as well,” Besch said. “In fact, for a while they stopped putting up columns, to get roof over what was there already, so the sub contractors could begin work on things inside.”

Two livestock wash bays are planned for the east side, one of which will have the ability to be enclosed, making it possible to hold a livestock show in the middle of winter, and still allow producers to scrub up their entries before hitting the ring.

Huge overhead doors will make it easy to move pretty much anything into or out of the space, which will only see concrete in the entry staging area, and where the retractable bleachers will be installed.

While the south, east and north sides will be largely metal siding, broken up by large doors, the west side, which is the main entrance to the DEX is coming into shape.

The entrance is impacted by a large gambrel roof that overlooks the outside. A gambrel roof - seen on literally hundreds of barns across the state, is made up of two shorter, shallower sides, placed above larger, much steeper sides. You may even have the same design on a shed in your backyard.

“Inside the entrance to the left, or north, is where our ‘Brand Wall’ is to be installed, where people can have their brand on display,” Besch noted. “Also to the north of the entrance is the women’s restroom facilities and a small office. To the south side, the men’s restroom and the building’s concessions are will find a home. In the midst of it all is a large, high-ceiling atrium, suitable for staging and event entertainment.

“There will be a sound system, for announcements and such of course,” Besch said, “and we expect to be able to host concerts inside.”

The outside on either side of the entrance has dormers covered with tongue-and-groove siding, for a very rustic look.

After the Gelbveith show in July, final preparations will be made for this year’s fair, which will be looming in the windshield for the state fair office. “As we have done in the past, we are going to have the Open Class Beef Cattle here the Tuesday before the fair,” said Besch, “and we are looking at that as a ‘soft opening,’ which address any things that popped up during the July show and give us a good idea of how things will go for the 4-H kids, who will show up later in the week.”

All-in-all, the work taking place, particularly on the DEX, re-enforces the fact that for the staff, the S.D. State Fair is much more than a few days in late summer, but is a year-round marathon, ending with a mad sprint to the finish. This year is just a bit more, because of the DEX.

“People will see the benefit of the DEX when it is completed,” Besch said. “Its presence not only for the fair but year round, as we are able to bring more and more events to Huron.”