2017-03-23 / Front Page

Board takes barn off demolition watch

By a 6-1 vote of Co. Bd.
By Eric Carlson
Of The Enterprise staff


THE LEELANAU County Board of Commissioners officially put demolition thoughts for the historic county barn on hold at its regular monthly meeting Tuesday night. Pictured are, from left, clerk Michelle Crocker, commissioners Tony Ansorge, Patricia Soutas-Little, Ty Wessell, Melinda Lautner, Debra Rushton, Casey Noonan, Will Bunek, and county administrator Chet Janik. THE LEELANAU County Board of Commissioners officially put demolition thoughts for the historic county barn on hold at its regular monthly meeting Tuesday night. Pictured are, from left, clerk Michelle Crocker, commissioners Tony Ansorge, Patricia Soutas-Little, Ty Wessell, Melinda Lautner, Debra Rushton, Casey Noonan, Will Bunek, and county administrator Chet Janik. The county’s historic Poor Farm barn has dodged demolition for at least the next six months.

The Leelanau County Board of Commissioners agreed Tuesday evening to let an ad hoc committee of barn preservation enthusiasts and county officials explore ways to preserve the barn and present a set of recommendations to the board by this fall.

“The committee will determine and report to the (County Board) the actual costs of repairing the barn to a safe and minimally usable condition,” according to a proposal the board accepted this week.

Last week, the County Board received a bid from a demolition company willing to tear the barn down for $66,300 while salvaging the wood, which the county could sell to recoup its cost.

The board took no action on that bid, however, after local historians Laurel Jeris and Barbara Siepker, along with Steve Stier of the Michigan Barn Preservation Network, convinced the board to consider alternatives.

The three met late last week with County Administrator Chet Janik and District No. 6 Commissioner Casey Noonan to present a proposal that would place a nine-month moratorium on any County Board action on the barn.

The board Tuesday evening agreed to accept the proposal if the time frame was reduced to six months and it was made clear that the County Board — not “all concerned” — agree on a “satisfactory solution.”

The vote to accept the proposal was 6-1 with District No. 2 Commissioner Debra Rushton voting “no.” Rushton said she was not opposed to the proposal as agreed to by the County Board, but was opposed to the way an amendment to the original proposal was decided upon.

The proposal calls on the ad hoc committee to “explore and determine recommendation(s) for possible future use (of the barn) that will support sustaining care and maintenance of the barn.”

In addition, the committee was asked to “identify a (non-profit) organization willing and legally able to accept possession of the barn and appropriate surrounding property through ownership or (a) long-term lease.”

District No. 7 Commissioner Melinda Lautner noted that the County Board and members of the county Parks and Recreation Commission on which she also serves have been debating what to do with the old barn for close to 20 years.

“It’s great that there are finally some members of the public coming forward who are really interested in this and are willing to do something about it,” Lautner said.

The barn, constructed 106 years ago, was once part of the county’s “poor farm” for indigent residents. It is has long been referred to as the county’s 4-H barn because it is located immediately adjacent to property used at Myles Kimmerly County Park by Michigan State University Extension’s local 4-H youth program.

The barn is also located adjacent to the Maple Valley Nursing Home property which was owned and operated by the county through the end of the last century following disestablishment of the “poor farm” many decades earlier.

“I am not in support of the county spending any money to repair this barn,” said District No. 5 Commissioner Patricia Soutas-Little.

Rushton said the only option that has been seriously considered for the barn is to make it suitable for storage of county-owned equipment.

“But if we don’t want to pay to make the barn good enough for storage, then we’ll need to consider other options,” Rushton said.

“I don’t know where we’d get five bucks to fix the barn,” said District No. 4 Commissioner Ty Wessell. “Maybe we should just give it to a non-profit and let them figure it out.”

“A decision whether to give the barn to a non-profit may be a year off,” Noonan said. “But we now at least have an option of letting a nonprofit move forward with a plan.”

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