Barn on hold, life support
Contractors were slated to tour the historic county-owned barn at Myles Kimmerly Park yesterday, Feb. 15, as part of the process of preparing bids to dismantle and remove the structure while salvaging its timber.
The day before, however, the Leelanau County Board of Commissioners heard from those opposed to tearing the barn down and agreed to review additional proposals for saving the barn before making a decision next month.
Bids from contractors offering to dismantle and remove the barn are due March 1. The County Board does not expect to make any decisions on the project before March 21.
At its executive meeting held Tuesday morning, the board heard from Steve Stier of Empire, a board member of the Michigan Barn Preservation Network. Stier and the nonprofit organization have been involved in preserving barns and other historic structures across the state, including within Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.
Stier was asked to appear before the County Board by District No. 6 Commissioner Casey Noonan who represents Empire, Cleveland and Glen Arbor townships.
Stier said he took issue with reports that it could cost $100,000 or more to fix up the county-owned barn, especially if it is to be used primarily for storage instead of some other use that would involve public access.
However, District No. 7 Commissioner Melinda Lautner said she is less certain that the barn can be repaired economically for any further use. Lautner represents Solon Township and Kasson townships where the barn is located. She on the county’s Parks & Recreation Commission that has been considering the barn’s fate for nearly two decades now.
The barn was constructed in 1924 from a mail-order Montgomery Ward kit and was part of what was once known as the county’s “poor farm” for homeless county residents. It is located at Myles Kimmerly County Park on Burdickville Road near Maple City directly adjacent to the formerly county owned Maple Valley Nursing Home.
District No. 2 Commissioner Debra Rushton questioned Stier’s assessment of how much it might cost to repair the barn. She said a 2002 study concluded that it would take about $60,000 to repair it – and the cost had likely risen over the course of 15 years.
Lautner said she would like to see the barn fixed and “repurposed” as well, but was skeptical about whether it would be worth the cost. She said she is convinced that the foundation of the barn is beyond repair.
Stier disagreed, however.
So did Barbara Siepker of Glen Arbor, who offered public comment at this week’s County Board executive meeting.
“We would like you to suspend the bids on demolition,” Siepker told the board, “and let a non-profit organization look into restoring the barn on site.”
The board agreed by consensus that they will consider seeking additional bids to restore the barn, along with proposals from any non-profit organization interested in helping fund the restoration.
County administrator Chet Janik said more information may be available at the County Board’s regular monthly meeting Tuesday evening, and no action will be taken until the issue is discussed further by the board in March.
District No. 2 Commissioner and County Board Chairman Will Bunek said he thinks the county-owned barn as the “Rapunzel barn.”
Years ago, when the County Board acquired the former Veronica Valley Golf Course for use as a county park in Bingham Township, there was a public outcry about removing some of the longstanding “folk art” on the property including a steel tower in which the fairy tale princess Rapunzel could be seen letting down her hair.
“That was just a mannequin with some bug-infested rope hanging down from an unsafe structure,” Bunek said. “But we had a parade of people including a whole Girl Scout troop coming before the board, begging us to save Rapunzel. That’s what this barn thing reminds me of.”