A scramble to save Duvall barn

An old dairy barn with peeling yellow paint and a rotting roof is perched on Duvall's southern boundary.

Inside, a pile of old mattresses sits among the timeworn remains of milking stalls. In one corner, wood planks nailed to the wall form a crude ladder into the hayloft.

Lin McBride, barn task-force chairwoman for the Duvall Arts Commission, hoisted herself up through the small opening and swung her feet onto the creaking floor. "This is the glory of it," she said, her voice triggering a flutter of pigeon wings.

With a high, arched ceiling made of hundreds of wooden boards, the 3,000-square-foot hayloft has fueled a 10-year-long dream for a performing-arts center. But a tight deadline — and an even tighter city budget — means those hopes could die come springtime.

That's when Newhall Jones, the Bellevue developer that donated the barn and roughly a half-acre of land, plans to break ground on a mixed commercial and residential development on about 11 acres on the west side of Highway 203 north of Northeast Big Rock Road.

Newhall Jones hoped to make the revamped barn the centerpiece of the development, Duvall Village.

To save the barn, it has to be moved about 250 feet to the northwest to make way for about 20,000 square feet of commercial space. If it's not moved, it will be destroyed, and the city will lose out on free land.

The Thayer barn, built by the Thayer family in the 1930s, is the last dairy barn within the city limits. It has seen Duvall's evolution from a sleepy farm settlement into a haven for hippies and artists before its latest incarnation as a fast-growing bedroom community for professionals fleeing big-city life.

Evidence of Duvall's agrarian age has largely been erased from the landscape. By preserving the old barn and using it for the arts, the community can retain some of its unique character and create a legacy for its future, said Sunny Ruthchild, the Arts Commission's founding president and a local gallery owner.

"If you take away the symbols of a place and at the same you're changing the personalities that live here — you're left without a defined character," Ruthchild said. "The whole Eastside is so volatile and constantly changing. Where are we going to find some continuity? Where are we going to find the soul that remains?"

The City Council is doing some soul-searching of its own. With the city anticipating a 13 percent cut to its total budget next year — and even bleaker projections for 2004 through 2007 — council members are weighing the best use for the $200,000 to $300,000 it will cost to cut the hayloft from the milking barn, move it, and build a 4,500-square-foot space on which it would sit.

It will cost thousands more to reroof the barn, install an elevator and make other changes to complete its transformation.

The Duvall Arts Commission and its foundation will present a business plan to the council this month, including their fund-raising and grant-writing strategies, before the council votes next month on the city's 2003 budget. Before the vote, residents can have their say at two public hearings.

Councilman Will Ibershof, a newcomer to the city, said he's made up his mind: City cash would be better spent completing projects such as the half-finished ballfields on Big Rock Road or fixing up the old train depot that's now sitting on blocks in McCormick Park.

He also worries about the Arts Commission's ability to obtain grants, especially because grant organizations — including King County — seem to be leaning toward giving to human services instead of arts programs.

And even if grants are awarded for the barn, the city would be responsible for matching 10 to 15 percent of the funds, he said. Then there's the possibility the already-deteriorating barn could become "an eyesore" after it's moved if renovations are delayed because money isn't available, he said.

But Pat Fullmer, another council member, thinks the people behind the barn project can make it happen.

"It's now or never," said Fullmer, who is waiting to see a business plan before making her final decision. "The barn is a piece of our history, and it's the kind of thing that if we lose it, there's not another one in town."

For Duvall, "$200,000 is a lot of money," Fullmer said. But long range, the barn-turned-arts-center has the potential to draw outsiders into the city, "which would help our whole economy," she said.

The city has been able to accept only limited development because of two moratoriums on sewers, the first in the early 1990s and the second in 1999.

The first moratorium stalled Duvall Village, but it's proceeding again because the developer's application was finished before the second moratorium took effect. It will be a few more years before the city can build a sewage-treatment plant and lift the moratorium.

The moratoriums have not only hurt city coffers but also have tied the hands of Arts Commission members, Fullmer said. They've started and stopped fund-raising for the barn numerous times and have even had to return pledge money because of the delays, she said. Now, they've got to move fast before time runs out.

"We're all wrestling with this," Fullmer said. "What we need is a sugar daddy."

Sara Jean Green: 206-515-5654 or sgreen@seattletimes.com.

Public hearings

Residents can weigh in on the Thayer barn plans at two public hearings before the Duvall City Council. The meetings will be in the Rose Room at the Duvall Library, 15619 Main St. N.E., at 7 p.m. Thursday and Nov. 26. The council is expected to vote Dec. 12 on whether to pay for the barn's move as part of the city budget.