EASTON — The Washington County Fair hopes a federal grant will help pay for better broadband service in the field.
“Anyone who’s ever been to the fair and tried to use a cell phone or a credit card reader knows the internet support just isn’t there,” said Rebecca Breese, co-CEO of the fair. .
The fair’s board is trying to hold more events throughout the year on the fairgrounds, “but they all need some sort of internet connection,” she said. .
For example, the Remote Access Medical mobile clinic held at the fairgrounds last year needed digital access to patient medical records. Educational programs want the ability to engage some participants with Zoom, she said. The fair office has a good connection, “but it slows down during fair week”, when thousands of people are out in the field with cellphones and laptops.
The fair’s board of directors applied for federal grants “in the hope that we can bring high-speed access across the fairgrounds and better serve our community,” Breese said.
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According to a public notice from the Federal Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration, the fair has requested funding to install 15,000 feet of conduit for copper and fiber optic cables on the 136-acre fairgrounds. The cables “will provide infrastructure with live broadcast capabilities,” the notice states, and will be laid in trenches 4 feet deep by 4 feet wide.
“There’s a lot of digging to do,” Breese said. “It’s no different than running power lines or sewers.” The cables will “map the fairground”, following existing paths between buildings and venues.
The fair asked for around $500,000, Breese said. The grant has a matching requirement, but Breese declined to say how much the fair would have to contribute or how it would raise the funds.
As part of the grant process, the Economic Development Administration reviews the project’s potential impacts on the environment and historic properties. Comments are due in the Philadelphia administration office by June 11. The full public notice is on the fair’s website, www.washingtoncountyfair.com.
Breese said the fairgrounds have undergone environmental and historic preservation reviews for other projects, and she doesn’t expect any issues now. The fair has operated on its Route 29 site since 1961. The only historic buildings on the grounds – a summer kitchen and a one-room schoolhouse – have been moved there as part of the farm museum.
Breese did not know when the grant might be awarded. In any case, this will not interfere with the 2022 fair, which is scheduled for August 22-28.
“We hope if (the application) is approved to begin construction this fall,” she said.
A contractor will be selected through a competitive bidding process.