The Future Starts Now

4-phase project starts with new fairgrounds, new office building
Marlo Pronovost
Thursday, January 2, 2020
Article Image Alt Text

The waiting is over.​

Tuesday morning, the Stillwater County Commissioners officially launched a multi-year, 4-phase project that will see the construction of a new fairgrounds, event center, office building, courthouse remodel, archives building and library.

Referred to as the Finalized Master Plan, all three commissioners voted to proceed with the project, ending more than five years of studies, meetings and controversy regarding how to best accommodate the shortage of Stillwater County office space and facilities in a manner that will allow more growth during the next several decades while being fiscally responsible.​

The project is a combination of Plans A and C that were presented to the public earlier in the year. Those potential plans were the work of the commission and a group of citizens that spent several months looking at all the research that had been done, as well as some of its own.

On Tuesday, Commissioners Mark Crago and Tyrel Hamilton emphasized that the plans are not set in stone, and allow for change as needed as plans progress.

Completion of the project is estimated at $28.5 million. There is currently $9 million in the facilities improvement fund. Additional income from the possible sale of the lot that the old hospital sat on, as well as grants, have led the commissioners to predict that it is 99 percent sure that no taxes will need to be raised.


Phase 1 will involve moving the current fairgrounds to a piece of county property directly across I-90, on Sheep Dip Road. On that site will be a livestock building, an exhibit area, a 600-seat outside arena, pull-through trailer parking, a picnic area, a facilities shop and the weed office. ​

However, only the livestock building, the exhibit area, the facilities shop and the weed office will be completed during Phase 1.  The other two structures are bumped down farther, under Phase 3.

Crago said this phase must be executed first in order to make room for Phase 2. Phase 1 will take between one and three years.​

Commission Chairman Mark Crago said this phase must be executed first in order to make room for Phase 2. Phase 1 will take between one and three years.​


This phase involves the construction of a 2-story structure to house county offices, which is of high priority, considering that county offices are currently scattered across Columbus in at least four different locations.​

The building will be located on what will become the old fairgrounds site, approximately one block from the current courthouse. Nothing will be done with the current courthouse as far as remodeling work until the completion of Phase 4, but the $28.5 million price tag includes renovation costs. On the commission’s plan, the courthouse is marked in white, which means it is a future project.​

There is a 2 to 5-year time frame for completion of Phase 2.


Phase 3 involves two sites — the current courthouse and what will be the new fairgrounds.

First, a “Law & Justice Center Expansion” will be added onto the current courthouse. The courthouse, and this expansion, will house the Stillwater County Sheriff’s Office, dispatch, the Stillwater County Attorney’s Office, Stillwater County Justice court, the 22nd Judicial District Court, the Clerk of District Court, Alternatives Inc. and possibly other criminal justice system offices.

Phase 3 also will see the a return to what will be the new fairgrounds for the construction of the 600-seat riding arena, the event center, the pull-through trailer parking and the picnic area.​

This phase has a time frame of 3 to 5 years.​


This phase will also involve two sites.

First will be the demolition of the “old jail” at the courthouse, as well as the construction of an elevator and additional restrooms.​

The “old jail” is actually the Stillwater County Sheriff’s Office 911 Dispatch Center. ​

Secondly, the phase also involves the construction of a library and Extension Services office near the Museum of the Beartooths. Phase 4 will span 4 to 7 years.​


As mentioned previously, the current courthouse is marked simply as “Future,” as is an archives building between the new library and the Museum of the Beartooths.​

The conceptual designs for the project was produced by Cushing Terrell, formally called CTA Architects Engineers based in Billings.​


In the next few weeks, the commissioners will start advertising for an Owner’s Rep — which is basically a unbiased third party hired by and representing the county that will assist in pulling everything together, such as documents, meetings, paperwork for bids, etc.

Having an Owner’s Rep assures “a constant” in a multi-year project such as this, where there could be changes in commissioners. An Owner’s Rep keeps the project on track and progressing, explained Crago and Dennis Shupak.

Meadowlark Assisted Living Facility

The county is awaiting the results of an appraisal done on the site of the old hospital and the Meadowlark Assisted Living Facility, which rents the building from the county.

In an acknowledgment to strong public sentiment on the issue, Crago told the News that when it comes to the county-owned site and building, making sure it remains an assisted living center is the commission’s priority.

Of the multiple parties that have expressed interest in the building, Crago said all “are in the assisted living business.”