One by one, three stainless steel aquariums were lifted up by a small crane and placed on a concrete block structure.
When the Jackson County Fair begins July 26, visitors will have a better view of the fish and turtles on display during one of the county’s biggest events of the year.
The previous tanks had been in place for more than 60 years. They began to deteriorate and leak water, so members of the Jackson County Conservation Council knew something needed to be done.
“We had been talking about it a couple of years and decided we would have to do something eventually,” said the council’s president, Dick Clampitt.
“There’s a few of us that really have to get in here and work because (the council) has been in existence for so long. A lot of people got older and are not able to help, so we thought we better be doing this while we’re still young enough to get the project going,” he said.
Clampitt said the project materialized during the winter months. The council sought bids and discovered it would take around $35,000 to complete the project, including the aquariums, concrete block base and shelter house.
Clampitt knew Kenny Sweeney, who operates Sweeney Brothers Masonry in Brownstown with his brother, Bill, had helped last year with the new restroom facility across the road from the aquariums.
Sweeney got on board with the project and contacted Tim Dorsey with Dorsey Fabricating in Brownstown about constructing the aquariums.
Each aquarium is 6½ feet wide, 18 feet long and 4 feet deep; weighs around 1,200 pounds; holds 1,500 gallons of water; and has a 2 by-4-foot bulletproof window on each side.
They will hold flatheads, channel catfish and bluegills, and there is an area for snapping and softshell turtles that will be surrounded by a chain-link fence.
Clampitt said the fish and turtles are collected by the public, and the council gives $25 gift certificates to the largest turtle and largest of each type of fish.
With the previous tanks, Clampitt said, people had to look over the top of them, and the milky water made it hard to see what was inside.
Now, with the windows on the side, people of all ages will have a better view of the fish.
“This way, little kids will be able to just walk right up and look right in, and it’s going to be a big plus,” Clampitt said.
“And people in wheelchairs will be able to ride up and look right in,” Sweeney added.
A lot of planning went into the project. Sweeney estimated spending 300 hours before doing any work.
“It involves architecture, and we’re not architects,” he said.
Sweeney communicated a lot with Dorsey to ensure their work would match up.
“Everything had to coincide with the stainless steel work,” Sweeney said. “(The aquariums) had to be built at a different location, and my dimensions had to coincide with the dimensions on those. The windows, that’s a big issue because my work had to match up with (Dorsey’s) work. He had to wait for the glass to come in to build the frames for the glass, and my blockwork had to go with his frames.”
Dorsey said he and two others worked on the aquariums, which took about 125 hours of work apiece. He said there is at least 300 feet of welding on each aquarium, and a lot of work went into anchoring the glass.
Stainless steel was the best way to go, Dorsey said.
“It will not rot away. It won’t rust. It’s basically forever,” he said.
Clampitt said $10,000 has been put toward the project. Each year during the fair, the six county conservation clubs take turns operating a fish stand next to the area of the aquariums.
“They get a percentage of the money that they take in to go back to their club, and a percentage of it goes to the fair, and then the conservation council gets the rest of it to pay for projects like this,” Clampitt said.
That leaves $25,000 still needed to pay for the project.
“We’ve got some people that said they would donate some money. When they see the project and see what it is and everything, I’m sure the money will come in,” Clampitt said.
“Any help we can get, we appreciate it,” he added. “This is something that needed to be done, and I know everybody will like it when it’s done. We just had to make the step. Somebody had to step up and do it.”
Sweeney and Dorsey both said they were happy to be a part of the project.
“My family has been involved in this kind of work for a long time. My dad donated work out here when he was young. He would be over 100 years old now if he was alive,” Sweeney said.
“It makes you feel good to help people out,” he added. “It’s going to be a nice feature for the fair, and I feel good about being a part of it because it’s going to be here for a long, long time.”
Dorsey said he is excited for fairgoers to see the new aquariums.
“It will be worth it because it has already been kind of the talk of the town, so it will be exciting to see it up and going,” he said. “It makes me proud that we could help them out and put something new that will bring more people to the fair.”
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To donate to the aquarium project at the Jackson County Fairgrounds, contact Dick Clampitt, president of the Jackson County Conservation Council, at 812-498-9311 or 812-966-2516.
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“It’s going to be a nice feature for the fair, and I feel good about being a part of it because it’s going to be here for a long, long time.”
Kenny Sweeney, who helped build and install new aquariums for the Jackson County Fair