Saving Barns

April 9, 2013

This evening at Council, we removed the Hart Barn at 132 Harts Lane from the city’s Heritage Register. It was disheartening, but necessary. The barn was structurally unsound and the best possible future is to retain, preserve and reuse its architectural elements in the potential new subdivision that is being proposed. Thankfully, the barn’s new owner is someone who understand there is an aesthetic and economic value to integrating heritage into a community; that people respond and appreciate something out of the ordinary.

It didn’t have to be that way. If this barn had been identified for adaptive re-use many years ago and if the city and the owner had taken steps to ensure it was maintained to a minimum structural standard, perhaps the barn might have had a new chance at a new life today.

Not all heritage structures are worthy of saving. But the ones that are worthy should be protected. Allowing “demolition by neglect” is simply not acceptable for a municipality. Failing to take appropriate measures to maintain and conserve heritage assets that we, as a community, have determined are in the public interest to save, is irresponsible. Would we stand by and watch a wetland be drained, or an endangered species be removed, or the river be polluted?

We have only a handful of barns left in the city. I can think of three privately owned barns that are worthy of saving. I know that two of them are in excellent shape and lovingly cared for by both previous and current owners. The third could use some TLC, but is not too far gone to save. With appropriate incentives, the owner may see the value in future retention and adaptive re-use. There are other barns that are not likely to be saved, and while that is disappointing, I have to face reality.

To save a barn, we need three things: a) a future use, b) a community who values having a barn as part of its urban landscape, and c) an owner who understands its value.

I think we have (b) and (c) already in place in the three barns that I believe are worth saving. So let’s talk about (a) future use. What can you do with an old barn? Believe it or not, the possibilities are wide open. We already have several former barns in the city that have been successfully converted – apartments on Bagot Street, offices in the former U of G sheep barn, and the Drill Hall on Wyndham was a former industrial building — and that is just the beginning. Here’s a few other cool ideas ….

Barn Again:  New Uses for Old Barns  acorn_pg9