Hold your horses — the San Juan County Fairgrounds horse barn isn’t going away just yet. A petition appealing its scheduled deconstruction has stopped the project.
“Right now we can’t do any more demolition,” said Dona Wuthnow, Parks and Fair director at the March 27 San Juan County Council meeting.
Dana Kinsey of Orcas filed the appeal and, a day after the deadline, the $600 filing fee was donated by her 11-year-old son, who earned the money from county fair 4-H projects over the last five years.
Council will not make a decision on the continuation of the project until the county hearing examiner decides if the late payment fee invalidates the appeal. (Watch the Journal for updates on the decision.)
Deconstruction can’t continue until the appeal is revoked, deemed invalid or a hearing dismisses it. The county has 60 days to schedule a hearing after an appeal is filed.
Wuthnow met with the three opposers of the project, who spoke at the March 20 council meeting, and agreed to a possible compromise to demolish only the newer sections of the barns while maintaining the oldest section until opposers are clear on project plans. No public supporters of the project were invited to the meeting and the project is halted — at least for now.
“If we don’t get going soon, we could lose the grant,” said Wuthnow, about the Washington State Agriculture grant accepted by council in 2016 to fund the razing of the barn by this June.
Deconstruction of the 93-year-old barn was to begin in March, but islanders have bridled against it.
“For whatever reason, we have one camp that has a lot of information that is very pro-new barn, and now we have another group that’s getting up to speed, so we were willing to slow down our efforts to have a chance to get some information out there regarding the project,” said San Juan County Manager Mike Thomas at the March 20 council meeting.
At that meeting, Alyson Clark Stephens of Orcas presented council with a petition of 135 signatures to suspend the deconstruction.
“If the county parks and fair demolish this barn there are many islanders who would sorely miss it,” said Stephens. “It’s an important structure and part of our island culture.”
According to island architectural historian Boyd Pratt, the barn was built in 1924, with several sections added later. Parts of the barn indicate it was originally for cattle, like a ring to secure a bull and concrete ramp to herd them into the structure.
Inspections deem the barn unsafe, said Nancy Ballmann of San Juan Island, the sole supporter of the project at the March 20 meeting. Estimations to lift it couldn’t guarantee it wouldn’t fall when replaced and members of 4-H, she added, spent hundreds of thousands of dollars repairing the barn — money that could have gone to programming.
A press release by the San Juan County Parks and Fair Department stated the barn is often littered with drug paraphernalia, vandalized and used as shelter by the homeless.
Removing part of the barn was planned since the 2012 fairgrounds master plan, according to the press release. The WSDA grant, coupled with some county funds, would pay to deconstruct the barn, purchase mobile horse stalls and install power and water access. In June, the updated fairground master plan will include a permanent multipurpose facility. When the new structure isn’t used to house horses for the current average of 15 nights a year, said Fairgrounds and Events Manager Jennifer Allen to The Journal, it would be rented for events to raise fairgrounds revenue.
At the March 20 meeting, Kinsey noted that the lack of project information made it difficult for her to agree. At next Monday’s meeting, Wuthnow said the first round of electronic public requests records from the parks and fair department had been given to the opponents.
Sandy Strehlou of San Juan Island also told council, on March 20, she wanted to view detailed plans before decisions on the barn and the future of the fairgrounds were made. When council voted to accept the WSDA grant to demolish the barn last summer, Wuthnow gave an outline of the project, but didn’t include conceptualized drawings of the new structure, which Kinsey requested to council, or plans to memorialize the barn, which Stephens requested.
At the March 27 council meeting, Wuthnow said project opponents contacted the state’s department of historic preservation and department officials said it was likely the barn could be listed on the national or state historic registers.
Pratt examined the barn during a county survey of historic barns in 2009 for Historic Barns and San Juan Island. Of the more than 200 barns surveyed since then, 15 are listed on the state’s national register of historic places. At the March 27 meeting, Wuthnow explained that Pratt is currently taking more detailed measurements and photos of the barn for historic record.
“I’m recording knowledge of the building, despite what happens to it — whether it’s torn down or still standing,” Pratt told The Journal.
At the March 22 meeting, Stephens requested a:
- Preservationist create a report on the barn and its history for record keeping
- Plan to retain barn wood if it is demolished, including criteria on which pieces would be sold or given away
- Written agreement that the barn’s wood be used on other fairgrounds buildings
- Permanent barn memorial, on the site of the demolished barn, then in the new structure
“I don’t want to damage the fair or the horse program,” said Stephens. “If it’s not practical to save the barn and keep it standing, I ask to pause the process of destruction as there are things that need to be done first.”
Slowing down the deconstruction, Thomas assured, would not prevent the plan to construct a temporary horse ban, or tent, before next year’s fair, as those structures are not in the same location.
To provide project input, contact email@example.com or 378-4310. To sign the petition to save the barn, search for “Save the SJC Fair Horse Barn Petition” at www.gopetition.com. To help save the barn, contact Stephens at 298-2990 or firstname.lastname@example.org.