July 18, 2008

Barn Lovers Flock to Threatened Eden Prairie Site: Officials Are Sifting Through Options for Future Use of a 66-Year-Old Barn Off Pioneer Trail That’s an Architectural Treasure.

By Laurie Blake, Star Tribune, Minneapolis

Jul. 18--Families, history buffs and barn lovers toured a historic 1942 Gothic-arch barn in Eden Prairie this week as the city looked for ways to reuse the building.

"You never get to be in an old barn anymore," said Jane Wampach, who came from Maple Grove with her husband, R.W. Johnson, to see the structure. "I just love old barns. I've always dreamed of owning one like this," Johnson said.

Because the picturesque structure stands where Hennepin County wants to hollow out a stormwater basin for Pioneer Trail, a soon-to-be-widened two-lane road, Eden Prairie opened the barn to public inspection to solicit ideas for saving it.

Learning of its availability, a vintage car museum in Michigan briefly considered moving it there before learning that it could cost more than $90,000. Locally, one man is considering moving it and making it into a restaurant. And an Eden Prairie theater group sees it as a perfect place to build sets and stage plays.

By the end of July, Eden Prairie plans to complete a study on potential uses that could preserve the building, located at 14150 Pioneer Trail, across from Flying Cloud Airport, said city preservation planner John Gertz. The report will go to Hennepin County, the Minnesota Department of Transportation and the State Historic Preservation Office, which will decide its fate.

Options include keeping the barn where it is with ponds built around it, moving it or documenting its architecture and tearing it down.

On Tuesday evening, about 50 people, some with cameras, scrambled up narrow stairs to the cavernous arched hay mow, still fragrant with the smell of straw. The unusual arched design is one of the key features that have made the barn eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, according to historic consultants advising the city.

Road widening starts in 2009

Hennepin County plans to start widening Pioneer Trail between Shetland Road and old Hwy. 212 next year, and it says construction plans must be in place by September to avoid losing $3 million in federal funds for the $17 million road project.

That deadline is forcing a quick decision on the barn, whose historic value wasn't determined until last spring, late in the project planning process.

Before learning of the historic value of the barn, the county intended to raze it to create one large drainage area. Now it is offering to build two basins, leaving a 20-foot buffer around the barn and a driveway from Pioneer Trail, but no space for parking.

The drain basins, which would be dry most of the time, would fill with water when it rains and hold the water until it filters into the soil.

With an open farm field on one side of the barn on property owned by the Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC) and city park land on the other side used as a disk golf course, Kathie Case, a member of the Eden Prairie Historical Society, questioned why the county must build the drainage ponds on the barn site.

"How can they do this when there is other space available?" Case said.

Alternate sites were examined

Hennepin County project director Chris Sagsveen said the county explored the two other tracts of land.

The MAC and the Federal Aviation Administration nixed the use of the MAC-owned field for fear that a drainage basin would attract birds to the property, which lies in the runway protection zone for Flying Cloud Airport, Sagsveen said.

To decrease the chance that a drainage area on the barn site would attract birds that would endanger airplanes, the MAC and FAA would have required a design that could drain away water from a 10-year storm within 24 hours, Sagsveen said.

Meanwhile, the city of Eden Prairie discouraged use of the park land because it's a hillside wooded with mature oaks. The tract protects Starring Lake, said Bob Lambert, former Eden Prairie Parks and Rec director.

'A very bad idea'

"It's beautiful terrain, and to destroy that to put in a drainage pond would be a very bad idea," Lambert said.

Also, the city bought the park land with federal funds with the promise that it would be kept as park land forever, Lambert said.

Changing that stipulation would require approval by the state Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Department of the Interior, said Lambert, and the county would have had to buy replacement park land for the city in a new location.

The county also decided expensive retaining walls would be needed to build the drainage basins on the park-land tract that slopes down to the lake, Sagsveen said. The flat barn site is better situated to receive water draining from the road, he said.

All of those potential expenses made the barn site the more affordable choice, even though the county had to use eminent domain and pay reluctant seller Floyd Sjostrand $1.3 million for it, Sagsveen said.

Laurie Blake --612-673-1711


To see more of the Star Tribune, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.startribune.com/.

Copyright (c) 2008, Star Tribune, Minneapolis

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

For reprints, email tmsre[email protected], call 800-374-7985 or 847-635-6550, send a fax to 847-635-6968, or write to The Permissions Group Inc., 1247 Milwaukee Ave., Suite 303, Glenview, IL 60025, USA.