Future of historic house and barn in disrepair uncertain
NORTH ATTLEBORO, Mass. (AP) — When town officials agreed to purchase Codding Farm off High Street in 2001, they did so to preserve the historic farm and its green acres from developers.
The LeStage property, including the farm and a historic house and barn used for nearly two centuries by an old jewelry family, was said to be “saved” for future generations.
But as it stands today, nearly 20 years later, part of the property is instead in ruins.
Town Administrator Michael Gallagher told selectmen last week that “winter has not been a friend” of the Codding Farm barn.
The northern-most section of the barn has long been stripped of anything other than its foundation. But months of heavy wind, rain and snow weakened the already fragile beams, frames and shingles, sending the adjacent back section of the barn also into complete collapse last month.
The building inspector deemed the barn unsafe and called for action on the property last week.
But for almost as long as the building has remained in town hands, community members have been clamoring for the same attention.
The town purchased the 58-acre property from the LeStage family in 2001. The house and barn were previously used as a family farm that had roots back to the early 1800s, but now in town control, the property was cherished for its historical and cultural significance to the town.
And many wanted to see that grow.
In 2009, local and state officials worked to create a successful bid that landed the barn and farmhouse on the National Register of Historic Places.
In 2013, community gardens were added to the property.
In 2016, after nearly a decade of planning and sorting out funding, two soccer fields were plotted out on High Street.
But when it came to preserving the barn and farmhouse itself, the historical commission struggled to receive backing from the board of selectmen, who have stewardship over the property. Repairs were left in limbo for years, and the consequences of those decisions may be proving fatal.
Historical commission Chairwoman Ann Chapdelaine said Thursday the state of the barn should be no surprise to North Attleboro.
“It’s a sad day to see the barn go, but it’s been like that for a couple years,” she told selectmen.
Chapdelaine said the historical commission has long had a vision for the future of the property, but said when those plans were brought to selectmen in the past, they fell on deaf ears.
She hoped to see the barn revitalized years ago into a cultural learning center that would house community classes and receptions — or at the very least maintained well enough to allow for such growth in the future.
Students at Roger Williams University completed a 40-page reuse and rehabilitation feasibility study in collaboration with the historical commission in 2013, which laid out detailed analyses on various infrastructure inside the building and spoke of ways to make that dream come to life. Parts of the barn could be salvaged, the study said, while the back part was too far gone after years of vandalism and exposure to elements and would need to be built anew.
The plan was presented to selectmen, but, for whatever reason, Chapdelaine said, it was never taken up.
Instead the barn sat unused, deteriorating on top of itself.
A community group mobilized about a decade ago to fund a new roof for the front section of the barn, saving that area from deteriorating further, but eventually that group disbanded when selectmen showed little interest, Chapdelaine said.
And when the historical commission petitioned the board to turn over their stewardship in 2012 and 2016, hoping that would give the historical commission more leverage to pursue funding and grants for the barn, that proposal too went ignored.
“The historical commission has done as much as we can with no budget,” Chapdelaine said.
Town officials said the barn fell to the bottom of a list of capital improvement projects year after year because there were no concrete steps forward for action, and more urgent priorities with real consequences on the list.
But Chapdelaine said past selectmen lacked a vision for the barn and instead saw it as a money pit.
“You need a vision. You need a plan,” she said. “Then the money comes in.”
Chapdelaine said the historical commission is now exploring options for the building but said what it really needs is an evaluation by a structural engineer — and that comes with a hefty price tag.
Instead, she called on the town to set up a request for proposal to see if anyone in the community has an idea of what it will cost to bring the building back to life.
Selectmen Thursday said they were disappointed to see the barn fall into ruin.
Chairman Michael Lennox said the board’s first responsibility is to ensure the safety of the property, and called for the town administrator to set up temporary fencing and signs deterring curious residents from finding themselves on the vulnerable property.
Meanwhile, Selectman Keith Lapointe said the property is “screaming” for a coordinated, community effort — and likely some creativity. He said all areas should be explored, going even as far as to suggest reaching out to HGTV to see if the barn would pique the interest of one of the network’s home improvement shows.
Gallagher said the town is pulling out all the stops.
He’s been reaching out to various salvage operations to get advice on what could be next for the building — and how much that would cost — but ultimately that decision is up to the board of selectmen.
“Do we take it down? Do we rebuild it?” he asked. “Do we salvage the materials and build something smaller using the materials we have?”
Several selectmen said they would be disappointed to simply see the property razed.
And they took responsibility that it was their board — even if not through the current makeup of members — that let the barn collapse.
“That barn is like an illustration of us not being able to get our stuff together and get something done,” Lapointe said. “I’m cognizant of the fact that it’s going to cost a lot of money, but I’ve seen this community rally around smaller projects for sure.
“For me at least, I don’t know if we should give up on it just like that.”
Information from: The (Attleboro, Mass.) Sun Chronicle, http://www.thesunchronicle.com