The new kitchen in Pioneer Hall passed inspection by both the SCC Building Dept. and the Health Dept. on Feb. 4. Photo by Marion Vendituoli

What started out as a fundraising project to purchase new appliances for the Sonoita Fairgrounds kitchen in autumn, 2017, soon ballooned into a major overhaul and remodeling of the area to make it compliant with Santa Cruz County Board of Health standards. Three and a half years and $92,000 later, the new kitchen has passed inspection and has been certified as a commercial kitchen. 

For years, volunteers and staff at the Santa Cruz County Fair and Rodeo Assn. (SCCFRA) had struggled with keeping outdated and unreliable appliances and fixtures working. One of the two stoves in use at that time was manufactured in 1956 and parts were not available to fix it. Only the stovetop worked on one of the stoves and only the oven worked on the other one. The freezer and refrigerator broke down frequently and were using excessive amounts of electricity and not maintaining cold enough temperatures.

On further investigation, it was learned that the kitchen, which dated back at least to the 1940s, did not meet the minimum standards for a commercial kitchen and, in addition to the new appliances, drains, sinks, surfaces, refrigeration units, stove hood, fire suppression system, plumbing, electrical wiring and more needed upgrading and/or replacing. 

In the process of redesigning the area, a new bar was built, with an ADA counter, a new storage room, closet and laundry room were added, a new hood and fire suppression system was installed, as well as new lighting, new propane and plumbing fixtures, new drains and sewer lines, a new hot water system, and fire doors and handwashing sinks. The electrical system and HVAC system were upgraded and the roof and drainpipes were repaired, new interior walls were built, and the floor was sealed. 

Donations and grants totaling $60,977 in cash and $5,000 in in-kind donations were raised for this project. The work was completed by SCCFRA staff, volunteer help, the help of inmates from the AZ Dept. of Corrections and by licensed contractors. 

The kitchen renovation project, and the Santa Cruz County Fair and Rodeo Association as a whole, were negatively impacted by the pandemic. The inmates who had been integral in the maintenance of the grounds as well as working on the kitchen project were no longer available due to the pandemic, and the cancellation of the Sonoita Races last May, one of the major sources of funding for SCCFRA, as well as the cancellation of private events held in Pioneer Hall, have put financial stress on the 106-year-old community organization. 

But the Board, staff, and volunteers at SCCFRA remain committed to continue the tradition of the Fairgrounds as the heart of the community. The commercial kitchen will help them to continue their mission of promoting youth in agriculture, benefiting the local economy, continuing the western traditions of this county and supporting the community. 

The kitchen will be utilized at future major fundraising events that support the Sonoita Fairgrounds, a necessity for the financial survival of the fairgrounds, as well as for local charitable events, community parties, funerals, weddings, and reunions.

The kitchen will be an asset to the entire community, including local caterers, bakers, canners and fundraising organizations. It will also be available for community service groups who host fundraising events at the fairgrounds.