The Star has a good story this morning by reporters John Russell, Heather Gillers and Tim Evans that examines the type of stage Indiana uses for its grandstand concert performances compared to that used at other state fair venues around the country.
. . . A look at other state fairgrounds across the nation turns up a mix of temporary and permanent stages, and some creative engineering to make them stand up to bad weather and remain versatile.
The Iowa State Fair uses a permanent stage, with steel beams and girders, which sits on railroad tracks. When the fair wants to clear the area for another outdoor event, it pushes the stage down the tracks.
"We never have to tear it down," said Lori Chappell, spokeswoman for the Iowa State Fair. "It's solid, but we can move it when we need to."
The Illinois State Fair uses a permanent structure built at the fairgrounds in Springfield decades ago. At the Ohio State Fair in Columbus, all major concerts are conducted in a permanent indoor concert facility.
In contrast, the Indiana State Fair, like many others across the country, uses a temporary stage. Each summer, shortly before the fair begins, stagehands erect portable metal towers and scaffolding upon a wide, permanent concrete slab in front of the Grandstand. Then various bands hang tons of gear from overhead trusses.
During high winds, the entire structure can sway and shudder. On Aug. 13, the stage rigging collapsed onto the Sugarland crowd just minutes before the concert was to start. Six people have died in the accident, and dozens were hospitalized. Fair officials later acknowledged the massive structure had not been inspected.
Last week, I mentioned how Illinois State Fair officials have stage rigging that allows the overhead canopy to be raised and lowered depending on weather conditions and special efforts fair officials take to make certain the load balance is proper--precautions that were notably absent when Indiana's stage rigging collapsed under high wind conditions as the legs simply buckled and toppled the structure. The Star discussed those differences with Illinois fair officials and the precautions they took when the same storm system moved through Springfield earlier the same day that the storm hit Indianapolis.
Erecting a permanent stage does not solve all problems or mean that fair officials can ignore bad weather. Two weekends ago at the Illinois State Fair, storms packing 60 mph winds moved toward the fairgrounds. Officials monitored weather conditions as they prepared for a major outdoor concert. Finally, as the winds showed no sign of abating, officials ordered the removal of a bank of heavy video screens suspended from the roof. Then they lowered the roof.
They took those precautions even though the stage is a permanent structure.
After the storm passed, workers reattached the video screens and hoisted the roof back in place for the night's show by rock band 3 Doors Down.
Stacey Solano, spokeswoman for the Illinois fair, said she did not know the reasoning behind the decision in the 1950s to construct a permanent stage. But it has served the fair well for decades.
Although the stage's supporting framework is permanent, the roof is temporary, Solano said. It is put up by contractors each year before the fair begins. When the fair is over, the roof is removed.
While the roof is in place, Solano said, officials closely monitor the weather. When storms are approaching, they lower the roof, which is done with powered winches.
"It gets it out of the wind and keeps the center of gravity a little lower," she explained. "It also helps protect equipment that is on the stage."
Workers also can take down a backdrop "so air can move more freely through the stage area" when bad weather threatens, she said.
Solano said concert speakers, which are elevated but not attached directly to the roof, also are lowered when winds increase. Before the roof and equipment are raised back into place, the stage set-up is closely inspected.
"Everything is checked daily," she said, "and sometimes several times a day."The story indicates that a permanent stage structure that is more safe could cost in excess of $10 million, an amount the state fair fund seems to have available for such permanent improvements.
It also looks like another lawsuit will be initiated for one of the victims of the state fair tragedy. Former Marion Co. Prosecutor Carl Brizzi will send a tort claim notice to state officials today on behalf of family members of Gary Goodrich, a security worker for ESG Security who was killed instantly when the stage rigging collapsed.
UPDATE: The Star is reporting that the tragedy has claimed the life of a seventh victim. Citing a state police statement, the Star reported that 24-year-old cheerleading coach from Ohio, Meagan Toothman, succumbed to the severe injuries she sustained more than a week ago over the weekend at an area hospital where she was being treated. WIBC is now reporting that the report of Toothman's death was made in error:
State Police say they prematurely announced the death of a seventh victim of the State Fair stage collapse.
92 minutes after ISP reported Meagan Toothman, 24, had died of her injuries, spokesman David Bursten says Toothman remains on life support in very critical condition. He quotes Marion County Coroner Frank Lloyd's office as describing death as imminent.Unbelievable. How could the Coroner's Office report someone's death is imminent? Are they her health care provider? Not hardly.
UPDATE: The family has indicated its intention to donate Toothman's organs in anticipation of her death following the removal of life support late last night. Her organs were to be removed surgically this afternoon. Technically, Toothman will be declared legally dead upon removal of the organs. This has created the confusion over the timing of her death. So Toothman becomes the seventh fatality as of today.