Amid concerns, council OKs fair changes

By on April 11, 2012

By: GARY P. KLINGER Review Correspondent, Staff Writer

Ephrata Borough Council has approved significant changes to the footprint of this year’s Ephrata Fair. How those adjustments affect public safety continue to be a topic of discussion.

Changes became necessary when the new owners of Wiggles and Giggles daycare, located in the former J.C. Penney building, indicated their parking area would not be available for use during this year’s festivities. For the past several years, rides have been placed next to the Ephrata Review building, with the adjoining area between the Review offices and the Penney building used for foot traffic.

One possible solution was to utilize the borough hall parking area. However, concerns about the minimum 13-foot wide through-way made that space less workable. That, plus the fact the borough has allowed local scouting troops access to that lot as a fundraising parking lot lead to that option being scrapped in favor of extending the fair along State Street toward Fulton Street.

The primary concern is access to the Pioneer Fire Company in the event of a public safety emergency.

Mayor Ralph Mowen, a member of the fire company, said having rides that close to the fire company could put fair patrons at risk should the fire company be called into service.

"We need to take to heart what the fire company has said," he explained. "Out front there will be many, many children. The last thing I would want is someone getting hit by firemen coming in, or while getting the apparatus out."

Mowen said he is confident the borough staff, Ephrata police, the fire company and the Farmers Day Association will do everything possible to keep people safe. Council President Dale Hertzog agreed.

Nonetheless, Mowen remains concerned.

"It will be a very dangerous situation," he said.

"Our concern is getting that close to the fire hall," said Pioneer Chief Allen Pettyjohn. "Getting the barriers moved and getting the apparatus moved out will need to be our chief objective. We have not had a whole lot of time to think about this since we were first notified last Friday evening. I’m not saying this can’t work; just saying this has not been discussed. It could very well be that this will work."

The next question was whether this would be a permanent change or revisited annually. Borough Manager Bob Thompson confirmed that the decision was only for the 2012 fair and would need to be revisited annually.

"If things go smoothly, this could be recommended yearly," he said.

Curt Brown, owner of Brown’s Graphic Solutions on South State Street, is concerned about the fair’s impact on his business, where customers pick up approximately 150 packages a week. Organizers agreed to work closely with Brown to formulate a plan that might utilize a portion of the borough hall parking lot for customer pick-up.

Council member Bob Good indicated he was sympathetic to the impact the change might have on Brown’s business, but balanced his view pointing out that the fair only took up one week per year.

"This is a one time a year event which is known not only in PA but surrounding states," he said. "And yes, we’ve heard concerns from other business owners that essentially once the fair comes to town they might as well close down that week. But this is a unique event that brings a lot of people and revenue into Ephrata. I’m concerned about the merchants, but also concerned about keeping this event here in Ephrata."

Police Chief William Harvey weighed in, trying to be supportive of Brown’s concerns by making both himself as well as fair commander Lt. Chris McKim available to help out in any way possible.

"Please feel free to give either myself or Lt. McKim a call," he said. "We will do whatever we can to help coordinate for special deliveries. We can also help communicate with staff to help out."

The changes also force council to grapple with a choice to either relocate a large number of rides or simply not have them. In order for the fair to remain in town and remain viable, eliminating that many rides and the considerable amount of revenue generated by them was not an attractive option. Revenue generated by the rides in question are estimated to generate well over $100,000 per year.

One other detail made public during Monday night’s meeting was that for the first time in 42 years there would be a different ride vendor. Council member Vic Richard expressed concerns about making too many changes to the agreed upon footprint too late in the planning process. He added, however, that The Farmers Day Association had always been good neighbors in the past and he saw no reason to believe that excellent relationship would not continue in the future.

In the end, the motion to move forward with the new footprint passed, with council member George DiIlio casting the sole dissenting vote. Safety issues will continue to be discussed. More COUNCIL, page A16

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