Raising the barn

The resident owl has relocated, the outer structure is entirely removed and the beams and posts of the century-old barn stand waiting to support a performing arts center, classroom space and community venue.

Two years after the Willow Wind Learning Center and volunteers embarked on a $600,000 campaign to save one of the area's oldest agricultural structures, the Willow Wind barn could again become as useful again as when first constructed in the late 1890s.

With completion slated for June, the project has been a long time coming, said Willow Wind teacher Judith Anne McBride.

Now jammed into desperately cramped quarters, the school, on E. Main near Walker Avenue across from ScienceWorks, has long hoped to save the old barn and create usable space for the school and surrounding community.

To that end, teachers, parents and the Ashland School District, which operates the alternative school program, raised $575,000 towards the remodel while the Ashland School District contributed $150,000 from a capital bond passed in 2007. With all but $25,000 of the fundraising done, the school recently held a groundbreaking to show the framing of the old structure and to thank the community for its support.

"What's really important to us is we've had a lot of foundation, local and regional support and we want to let them know that things are coming along," McBride said.

"We feel really good about what we've done. Ashland lacks an affordable venue and this is something our school has needed for a long time."

While the interior of the barn was completely stripped away, Adroit Construction project superintendent Pat Staed said the footprint and framing of the structure were not altered.

A new foundation had been poured and the old beams and posts have been reinforced, awaiting a new interior to be built.

"We were able to save all of the timber structure. It was pretty well put together. It stood here for 100 years and this will help it stand here for another hundred," said Staed.

Eventually, classroom space, seating for up to 200 and handicap accessibility will be added to the old agricultural hull.

Creating curriculum for the alternative school, students will follow progress of the project and even create a scaled down version of the barn to use for research.

All told, community response to the project has been positive, Staed noted, except for one former resident.

"The owl moved out the minute we started working," said Staed with a laugh.

"He didn't like the noise or the people, but we think he moved into a nearby barn and he's been watching us work."

Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. E-mail her at buffypollock@juno.com.

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