Fire Department officials begin inspection process of Rochester Fair Exhibition Hall

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The Exhibition Hall faces tough scrutiny today by fire officials determining what upgrades must be made for it to be used next year. (Rochester Voice photo)

ROCHESTER - Rochester Fire inspectors are at the Rochester Fair Exhibition Hall today to begin the process of determining what may need to be done to ensure the hall meets life safety code criteria needed to be allowed occupancy during next year's fair as well as any other events the Rochester Fair Board of Directors may seek to schedule.

Rochester Fair Board of Directors President Nancy Gilbert said today the fair is hoping the hall can be awarded a designation as an historic building, which could allow some leeway in whether the hall would be required to install a fire-suppressant sprinkler system, which would cost tens of thousands of dollars to design and install.

Gilbert said if an historic building designation is awarded, it could also mean grant money might become available to help with the expense of a sprinkler if it is mandated.

She also said such a designation might also offer some leeway in what the Fire Department ultimately decides.

Fair officials have said a sprinkler system is cost prohibitive and would not be usable for the winter season because the building has no heat.

They also say life safety issues only become an issue for two weeks out of the year during the 10-day Rochester Fair.

Andrew Cushing of the New Hampshire Preservation Alliance, who is determining what relief the 135-year-old Exhibition Hall might be eligible for, said there are several historic-designated buildings in Rochester, including many in the Downtown District.

He said the Exhibition Hall's inclusion on such a list could "allow for some leniency" by Fire officials.

"The designation of historic building allows a new lens on how those inspecting the building look at the building," he said.

Another option he is proposing for the Rochester Fair Board of Directors is a program for historic barns that allows a property tax abatement and then freezes the annual tax obligation for 10 years, which could also offer some monetary relief.

He also said that while a sprinkler system might be unworkable due to pipes freezing during the winter, a cistern built underground, though costly, could be an option, too.

However, if the building is awarded an historic designation, it could be approved with no sprinkler system required like the vast majority of historic buildings designated throughout the state, Cushing said.

City Fire officials allowed this year's fair to use the Exhibition Hall with the inclusion of two-person Fire Department teams who physically patrolled the hall while it was occupied.

State designated historic buildings in Rochester include the Samuel R. Hanson House and the bandstand on the Common.

National designated historic buildings include the Richard Hayes House on Gonic Road and the Jenness Farm on Pickering Road.

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