The wind blew the flap of a green tent open before an inmate was finished setting it up.
When the other side lifted and nearly blew over, another inmate hopped over to help.
On Wednesday, prisoners who were part of the State Correctional Institution at Rockview’s Community Works program spent the day setting up Grange Fair camping tents during what organizers called “crunch time.”
“This is the busiest time of year for us,” said Darlene Confer, Grange Fair manager. “There are a lot of odds and ends that need to get done.”
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The Centre County Grange Encampment and Fair attracts more than 100,000 visitors annually, and thousands more who camp in tents at the grounds or in designated recreational vehicle areas, Confer said.
The fair is celebrating its 140th year.
The nine inmates started work Monday and will take about two weeks to erect 1,000 tents by move-in day Aug. 20, said Dennis Barndt, Rockview’s community work detail labor foreman.
Confer said Grange Fair management got a tip several years ago that the prison would provide a group of inmates to work on projects with nonprofit organizations.
“We’ve been getting their help for quite some time,” Confer said. “They were looking for work and we wanted a helping hand.”
Inmates in the Community Works program receive 51 cents an hour — 10 cents more than the highest paid working inmates who work at the jail, Rockview public information officer Jeff Rackovan said.
The program was designed for low-security inmates who are close to their release date to get work experience out of the prison — and a way for community projects to be completed at no cost to the organization, Rackovan said.
“Our inmates go out and assist the community,” Rackovan said. “They’re the guys you see cleaning up trash on the side of the read. They’re out in fresh air and out in the community. … It’s a way to see how they can adapt in a community setting.”
So far, this week has gone smoothly.
“The work’s getting done,” Barndt said. “And it’s been nice out.”
If an inmate steps out of line, there are consequences that include getting kicked out of the program.
“That hasn’t happened yet,” Barndt said.
With about three weeks until the start of the fair, maintenance and ground crews were also checking the electricity, cleaning up the grounds and working with arborists who were trimming and taking down trees. Roads are being repaved and wooden rails in the tents were refinished.
“We always want to keep it up and make it best for our guests,” Confer said.
This year includes 324 concession stands, rides, craft vendors, live entertainment, agricultural shows and more.
In honor of the 140th year, the Grange Fair is bringing back the tent-decorating contest that was put on a three-year hiatus, Confer said.
All 1,000 tents have been reserved and the 1,500 RV spots have been filled. There will be an overflow camping area that can fit several hundred people. The overflow section is on a first-come, first-served basis, Confer said.
“We have a lot of work to do, but this year’s fair will be jam-packed with things for everyone to do,” Confer said.