A new lease on life for UI barn

A new lease on life for UI barn

SAVOY — A century-old barn that stands in the path of a new solar array planned by the University of Illinois will get new life on a different central Illinois farm.

The last remaining barn on the former Cruse farmstead — acquired by the UI in the 1960s — is being dismantled by Trillium Dell Timberworks of Knoxville, Ill., and will be reassembled on a farm near Congerville, according to Trillium owner Rick Collins.

The UI plans to build a 20.5-acre solar farm near First Street and Windsor Road, encompassing the old Cruse farm. The barn was originally scheduled to be demolished by last spring, and a corn crib and two smaller farm buildings on the property have been razed.

But a student environmental group that committed more than $1 million in student fees toward the solar project pressured the university to save the barn.

The university recently agreed to pay Trillium Dell almost $55,000 to take the barn down and move it. The company has a buyer near Congerville who plans to use it as a horse barn, Collins said.

"This is by far one of the most well-maintained buildings that I've ever taken down. It's in what I call near-perfect condition," said Collins, whose company restores and move old barns and builds new timber-frame structures. "To build a brand-new building like this, as it stands today, is a $600,000 to $700,000 endeavor. And there's nothing wrong with it. There's just nothing wrong with this building."

Morgan Johnston, sustainability coordinator for UI Facilities and Services, said the university took bids for the removal of the barn last April, asking for any possible credits from the contractor for salvage value. The bid documents stated that the university encouraged reuse of the materials but didn't require it.

Of the four bidders, only Trillium Dell planned to reuse the barn, she said. Trillium Dell estimated the cost of removal at $78,000 and the salvage value at $18,000, for a net bid of $60,000. The company was the highest bidder, but the university negotiated a slightly lower price. The other bids ranged from $21,000 to $44,125.

Johnston said the students had hoped that saving the barn might be cheaper than a typical demolition because of the salvage value. But the reality is that it's more expensive to take a building apart than to simply bulldoze it, she said, because contractors have to use more care.

"They really wanted to see it salvaged, and they believed that it would save the university money," she said. "We were able to fund it even though it was a little bit higher" using money already budgeted for demolition work, she said.

"I'm very pleased that we were able to get it salvaged. It's just beautiful," she said.

Work crews from Trillium Dell began work on Aug. 29, prying out floorboards first. They planned to remove the roof next, then pull the framing down this week, said project manager Tim McGee. The project was expected to take two weeks.

The New England saltbox barn, which has an asymmetrical gable roof known as a "cat slide," is 59 feet by 61 feet, with 7,000 square feet of space. Nearly 40 feet tall, the barn has two stories but could easily be three, said Collins, a UI forestry graduate.

The first floor has stalls on both sides with a raised center aisle, presumably to accommodate wagons, and the second-floor loft was used to store hay. A cupola sits at a 45-degree angle atop the green-painted galvanized metal roof.

The columns and massive beams have mortise-and-tenon joints, although part of the loft floor appears to be newer, Johnston said.

The timber-frame construction makes the barn easy to move, Collins said. The majority of the framing is southern yellow pine, and the 12-inch painted white siding is white pine, he said. "It's an exceptionally well-built timber frame," Collins said.

Collins said he was told the owner traveled to Indiana to get the 42-foot, 8-by-8-inch timbers for the tie beams. They were hewn by hand, while the other lumber in the building was circle-sawn pine from Missouri, he said. "It was clearly built by a carpenter. The layout is precise; the joinery is very accurate. There are very few mistakes," he said.

He thought the barn might have been built in the 1880s or 1890s, though UI officials date it to the early 1900s.

"This is from the last of the era of the big, well-built timber-frame barns," Collins said. "Since 1890, construction technology has taken a nose dive, especially after World War II."

The barn still held piles of old plywood, various machine parts, farm equipment, discarded furniture, beer cans, shoes and other debris last week.

But overall the crew found little damage to the structure, just a small amount of rot in the corners and near the main doors where water came in, McGee said.

"They've kept a good roof on it," which protected the interior, McGee said. "It's in excellent shape."

Each piece will be assigned a number and letter corresponding to a grid system, so it can be reassembled easily, he said. Any holes can be patched with other reclaimed lumber owned by Trillium Dell.

The UI Foundation, the UI's fundraising arm, acquired the farm in 1965, and it was eventually transferred to the university. It was mostly used for storage, Johnston said.

Johnston said the project fits with an overall campus effort to achieve "net zero waste" by 2015, in part by changing its construction and demolition practices.

The university is still awaiting state approval for the solar farm, a public-private partnership with Phoenix Solar Inc. of San Ramon, Calif. The firm would design, build and operate the farm for the first 10 years, and the UI would buy all the energy produced there under a $15.5 million power-purchase agreement.

Although that requires a $5.3 million campus subsidy, after 10 years the UI would own the solar farm and have access to the energy produced at little or no cost, advocates say.

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