Staff photo/Greg Sellentin The San Juan County Fairground horse barn, built in 1924.

Fairgrounds horse barn put out to pasture

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.

Due to the late fee payment, it is unclear whether the appeal will be considered valid. (Watch the Sounder for updates on the decision.) Either way, the project will be halted, at least for now.

Wuthnow met with the three opposers of the project, who spoke at the March 20 council meeting, and agreed to demolish only the newer section of the barns while maintaining the oldest section until further decisions are determined. No formal decision can be made until the appeal is sent to a hearing, viewed invalid or revoked. The county has 60 days to schedule a hearing.

“If we don’t get going soon, we could lose the grant,” said Wuthnow, about the Washington State Agriculture grant accepted by council in 2015 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 the Historic Barns of San Juan Island, the barn was built to be part of the fairgrounds in 1924, while a southern addition was added later.

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 July 11, 2016 county council meeting, Wuthnow gave an outline of the project, but didn’t include drawings of the new structure or plans to memorialize the barn.

Sandy Strehlou of San Juan Island told council on March 20 she wanted to view detailed plans before decisions on the barn and the future of the fairgrounds were made. Stephens also requested to memorialize the barn and preserve its history and wood.

At the March 27 council meeting, Wuthnow told council those opponents of the project 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.

“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 input on the project, email info@sjcfair.org or call 378-4310. To sign the petition to save the barn, search for “Save the SJC Fair Horse Barn Petition” at www.gopetition.com. Contact Stephens to help save the barn at 298-2990 or alysonclarkstephens@gmail.com.