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Projects | Cutting the Blue Ribbon

Coliseum 7


At this year’s Illinois State Fair, plenty of prized pigs, pies, and even pickles got blue ribbons. But only one building received a ribbon: the aptly named “Coliseum of Champions.” To kick off this year’s festivities, Governor JB Pritzker and the 4-H students who gave this Bailey Edward renovation its name, cut the ribbon on the recently completed Coliseum. 

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Illinois State Fairgrounds Coliseum, built in 1901 and once host to a wide-range of state and agricultural exhibitions, music events, competitions and even President Kennedy, was forced to close in 2016 due to structural instability. Having seen its last major renovation in 1958, some sections of roof decking collapsed, others became dislodged, and the structural columns were corroding away on their concrete foundations.

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To bring the Coliseum back to its former glory, Bailey Edward laid out a master plan that would not only improve the stability of the building but would also bring to light its historic features in a way that met the standards of the Secretary of the Interior and the Illinois State Historic Preservation office. Previous renovations over the years had significantly altered the appearance of the Coliseum, masking much of the original design’s intent as well as historic character-defining details. Using photography and modern techniques not available to previous renovations such as digital laser scans, wood analysis, and material sampling, we led a detailed historic investigation into the Coliseum’s architectural history. While this investigation found errors in the original design of crucial structural components, it allowed Bailey Edward to devise a plan that would honor the original design, bringing the Coliseum back to its 1918-1935 peak while ensuring it is structurally sound and up to the standards of the State Historic Preservation Office. 

Bailey Edward led the way through Phase I of the historic renovations to bring the Coliseum back to life in time for the 2019 State Fair. This first step of renovation work involved executing teammate Hanson Engineering’s design to restore the structural integrity of the building by securing the framing connections, restoring steel columns and trusses, and replacing deteriorated wood purlins. Additionally, new, yet historically accurate, clerestory windows, louvers, shingles and trim were all installed.

The new Coliseum of Champions is once again hosting visitors from all over for state and agricultural exhibits including the Society Horse Show and annual livestock auction, The Governor’s Sale of Champions. Illinois’ First Lady MK Pritzker paid $75,000 for the prized steer at the livestock auction, which benefits 4-H clubs and Future Farmers of America.

Now that the Fair is over and Phase I is complete, Bailey Edward will continue to lead Phase II of the Coliseum’s rehabilitation. This next phase will focus on bringing the Coliseum back to its original appearance as well as upgrades to the MEP system, insulation, windows, doors, and improved ADA access to make it a Department of Agricultural treasure to be enjoyed by all for concerts, sporting events, agricultural competitions and more, no matter what time of year it is. 

  Many thanks to Hanson Engineering, not only for being a great partner in this project, but for also providing such beautiful photography!