U State Fair building may get an update

The 60-year-old building leaks and puts research equipment at risk.

The University of Minnesota's Driven to Discover building sits at the State Fair grounds on Sunday. Some University faculty wish to revamp the building in an effort to make the University more attractive and draw in research participants.

Maddy Fox

The University of Minnesota’s Driven to Discover building sits at the State Fair grounds on Sunday. Some University faculty wish to revamp the building in an effort to make the University more attractive and draw in research participants.

Benjamin Farniok

Leaky roofs and uneven floors in a 60-year-old Minnesota State Fair exhibit turned research facility could be getting an update. 
 
The Driven to Discover facility — the former home of the Spamville State Fair exhibit — hosts researchers who use fairgoers for experiments or surveys, as well as expensive equipment that could be threatened by inadequate drainage. 
 
Two University professors are looking into fixing the building and expanding the facility to hold more researchers and subjects.
 
Performing research at the fair provides easier access to a large number of subjects for experiments, surveys and other research, said Logan Spector, a pediatrics professor and an author of a report and proposal for the updated center.
 
During the 2014 State Fair, the building was home to research on juries, diabetes and sunscreen dispensers.
 
That year, about 9,000 fair attendees went through the center. Finding enough subjects could take as long as three years in some cases, according to a survey included in the report.
 
At the 2015 fair, more than 17,000 people went to the research building, Spector said. 
 
The fair also offers researchers an opportunity to do long-term studies because many people attend it every year, Spector said.
 
The facility often leaks when it rains because of a lack of drainage, which could damage expensive research equipment, Spector said, adding that the small space also gets very hot because it doesn’t have air conditioning.
 
“The building itself is really inadequate,” he said.
 
The proposed new building would be bigger, improve drainage, add air conditioning, increase disabled access, fix the uneven floor and increase storage space for participants at the building.
 
Spector said he thinks the update would cost less than $500,000.
 
Since many departments perform research in the building, it’s difficult to determine which would bear the cost of updating the facility, Spector said.
 
“Because there are so many units that can benefit from this … no single unit will claim responsibility,” he said.
 
In addition to the opportunity being granted to researchers, Spector said the building could be rented out during the warmer months, which could allow the school to subsidize
the costs of an update.
 
Pierce Ekstrom, a Ph.D. candidate studying social psychology, said his time with the center was useful, and he would support making the changes that are listed in the report.
 
“We and a number of other people just had massive success in terms of recruitment,” he said.
 
Ekstrom said he didn’t think space was an issue at the building, though it wouldn’t hurt to expand it.
 
“I think as the idea gets out there, I think demand will increase … and I think that will serve them well as they continue to grow this space to match that,” he said.