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home : columnists : columnists September 20, 2017

8/19/2017 4:00:00 AM
'90 NHS grad is Fair's 'Mr. Fix it'
The Times photo by Betsy ReasonMark Costlow, facilities maintenance superintendent at Indiana State Fairgrounds, is on his cell phone much of his day, keeping problems resolved and fixing “broken stuff.” Here, he is found in the Pioneer Village.
The Times photo by Betsy Reason

Mark Costlow, facilities maintenance superintendent at Indiana State Fairgrounds, is on his cell phone much of his day, keeping problems resolved and fixing “broken stuff.” Here, he is found in the Pioneer Village.

By Betsy Reason

Mark Costlow can pet an Anheuser-Busch Clydesdale. He can view the Indiana State Fairgrounds from the roof of the Coliseum. And he can eat ice cream every day of the Indiana State Fair.

While he has lots of perks working at the State Fairgrounds, the 1990 Noblesville High School graduate, who is the Fairgrounds' facilities maintenance superintendent, is one of the busiest employees before, during and after the Indiana State Fair, which runs through Sunday.

The Fairgrounds has 250 acres, 68 buildings and is open year-round.

Sound like a big job? And "it is," said the 45-year-old, who works 17-hour days, with no days off during the Fair. He sleeps many nights in a one-bedroom studio, one of many apartments hidden all over the Fairgrounds in various buildings.

But his family, wife, Heather, a medical dosimetrist, and their two kids, Catey, a fourth-grader, and Holden, a second-grader, often visit Dad at his job. "They love coming down to the State Fair....This is a great place to work and raise a family," said Costlow, whose family enjoys a lot of his perks.

"But I'm always able to get my work done," said Costlow, who is on-call around the clock. He's on his cell phone a lot of his day. He's putting out fires, picking up after everybody else, but mainly, he said, "We just fix the broken stuff."

I went behind the scenes to visit Costlow, who has a cool office in the lower end of the Swine Barn, where he has photos of his family, a computer, sofa and a refrigerator full of Gatorade, plus wall maps of Mount Wilson in Telluride, Colo., one of his favorite places on the planet. He loves the outdoors and walks the Fairgrounds to keep in shape.

The lower level of the swine barn is also where to find the supply department, two carpenters, a paint shop, HVAC technician, two full-time plumbers, mechanics and heavy-equipment operators. They're busy "all of the time," said Costlow, who supervises a total 15 employees.

Just because he is the superintendent, it doesn't mean he sits at his desk all day. "I do get my hands dirty. I like to get my hands dirty. I like to help the guys whenever I can" Costlow said.

"Any contractors that come onto the grounds go directly through me. So I coordinate all of the work that comes in, and I disperse that to my technicians."

On this particular day, he was dealing with a roof leak of an older building. There was also an elevator down, and it was repaired.

He also does heavy-equipment operating and assists plumbers. He plunges stopped-up toilets, fixes parts on broken toilets, and he changes filters in air conditioners and furnaces.

He also repairs a lot of doors. "The doors get beat up a lot," said Costlow, who repairs door locks and hinges, doors that won't shut and doors that are stuck.

He puts down stone and gravel in muddy areas, patches asphalt and makes sure fairgoers have safe place to park.

The most rewarding and toughest parts of his job is keeping problems resolved as soon as they pop up and not letting the work stack up. "I make things happen; that's what I do," said Costlow, who was nicknamed the "Bearded Wonder" by his mechanic for the beard he's been growing since June 2015, three months before he took the job.

Last year at this time, his list included replacing a water-main cleanout which occurred after a sewer line backed up and closed a bathroom during a busy Friday night in the Midway. Bathrooms were closed for only an hour, thanks to calling in professional help. Last year, they also had to reseed grassy areas and grating ground rutted due to heavy rains last summer during the Fair

He mentioned some big projects, including the Fairgrounds' Speed Barns. One by one, those barns are getting refurbished and renovated, "We do one a year," he said, referring to the Fairgrounds-owned and maintained horse barns that are rented out, year-round, along Binford Avenue. The Fairgrounds maintains the racetracks, a mile dirt track and a half-mile gravel track. His employees grade the track, they water the track, they drag it, they'll put new gravel down if needed, they'll put new soil down if needed, they maintain the track for everyday use. During the Fair, Speed Barn renters exercise their horses between 3:30 a.m. and 8 a.m.

Being facilities maintenance superintendent is definitely a big job. "There are some days when my phone rings all day long. I also carry a radio in case my phone goes down. But I have a tremendous team. And a lot of these guys have been here for many, many years. I have three technicians, a carpenter, a plumber and a heavy-equipment operator, who have been here for over 30 years. "All of those men are mentors to me; they make my job easy."

Costlow, who has a bachelor of science degree in new media technologies, was recruited for the job just after the 2015 Indiana State Fair. He had background in coordinating and supervising and managing people. "I think that's what helped with this position," he said.

"I had a lot of support from all of the guys to go for the superintendent position."

Costlow said, "I'm good at my job because of the team that I have. There's a strong balance of trust between all of us. There are 13 or 15 of us, everybody works as a single unit even though there are different aspects to the things that we do....It just flows. Dynamically, it's really amazing. I've never worked at an organization that runs like the fairgrounds does. It's a fun place to work."

During the State Fair, he compiles a list of things that break and need fixed after the Fair is over.

Come Monday, vendors will be packing up, readying to move out. By the end of next week, the Fairgrounds will be empty and will be back to regular full-time staff.

After the Fair is over, Costlow and his staff maintain the grounds and buildings. "We make sure the buildings are fully operational, that there are no problems with them, whatsoever, because we are a year-round event center. There are things that happen almost every weekend. Fifty out of 52 weekends, there is something going on at the Fairgrounds. That's over a million square feet of space that we can rent out."

Costlow, when he was young, visited the State Fair for the first time with his Grandma Ruth and Grandpa Harley and his mom and dad and has loved the Fair ever since. He has a wealth of State Fair trivia and Fairgrounds history in his head. And while he hasn't met any big celebrities, he said, "I never dreamed I would have a job like this."

Costlow said, "It's fun, it's exhausting, it's exciting. It's fulfilling and it's rewarding....I love it."

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