Farm News staff writer
West Des Moines-Should it stay, or should it go? While some believe a 1930s-vintage barn on the campus of Valley High School campus in is standing in the way of progress, more people are rallying to preserve this unique piece of the community’s past.
“I was flabbergasted when I heard that the school wants to tear down the barn,” said Holly Peterson, 35, of Des Moines, who created a page on Facebook to spread the word about saving the historic barn.
“I value Iowa’s rural heritage and I don’t want to see this history swept away.”
VHS is located on what was once part of one of West Des Moines’ well-known farms-the Good farm.
Also called the Maplenol Guernsey Farm, the site was the home of the Maplenol Dairy in the early 20th century. One of the few remaining traces of the farm-the clay tile brick barn-is located near the intersection of 39th Street and Ashworth Road, along the edge of the athletic fields at VHS.
The school district faces a challenge, however, because VHS needs room for expansion. The school district plans to break ground on a $60 million school renovation and expansion project soon and plans to demolish the barn to make room for additional green space on the campus.
When word spread that the City of West Des Moines recently issued a permit to a demolition company to raze the barn, local citizens of all ages began mobilizing to rally support for the barn and let the school know that other alternatives must be considered.
“When I heard that the barn was going to be torn down, I had to do something,” said Sarah Bowman, a young mother from West Des Moines and self-described “barn hugger” who has written about “The Barn in the City” on her blog.
“Tearing the barn down shouldn’t be an option,” she wrote.
A brief history
The history of the Maplenol barn dates back to when West Des Moines was a small town and railroad hub known as Valley Junction. In 1920, Clarence Good founded the Maplenol Dairy and marketed Golden Guernsey milk in the local community.
In the 1930s, Good built a new barn to house horses, calves and hay. His operation helped modernize the 160-acre farm that his father, Charles, had purchased around 1880.
Although Good discontinued his dairy business in 1943, he continued farming in the area until he retired in 1956.
Within a few years, a portion of the Good Farm was sold to the West Des Moines school district. According to an account in the history book “West Des Moines: Railroads to Crossroads,” Good was paid $3,000 an acre for his farmland in the fall of 1962, for a total of more than $116,000.
Needs room to grow
Today, the barn stands as a silent witness to this chapter of West Des Moines’ rural heritage. For more than a year, West Des Moines school officials have pursued a number of options to save the barn, said Kurt Subra, chief financial officer for the West Des Moines School District.
The district contacted the Iowa Barn Foundation and the West Des Moines Historical Society, in addition to running a newspaper advertisement, but no one expressed interest in buying or moving the structure.
“There’s always a lot of sentimental value attached to old buildings,” said Subra, who noted that the school district needs to have the barn removed from its current location by March 1 of this year.
“Our biggest interest is to find a home for this barn, and we continue to welcome the public’s input on this issue.”
School officials recently met with a 4-H group that would like to help save the barn, said Subra, who added that he doesn’t have solid cost estimates of how much it might cost to move the barn.
“I would have to believe the barn, which is approximately 35 feet wide and 60 feet long, would have to be partially dismantled to move it.”
The school needs to have the barn removed from its current site, however, because VHS is landlocked on 39 acres and must expand to meet the needs of its 2,000 students, said Subra. The school plans to add more parking space, green space and room for athletics, in addition to a new fine arts auditorium.
New options proposed
Barn supporters have proposed a variety of options to the West Des Moines School Board and the West Des Moines City Council.
Potential solutions have ranged from turning the barn into a concession stand for the school district to using the barn as a museum or a community facility that can be rented for parties and other gatherings.
Other suggestions have included renovating the barn through VHS’s Silver Cord Honors program, in which students volunteer 50 hours each year of their high school career to support a community project.
“I think the school needs to slow down and take more time on this issue,” said Julia McGuire, 39, from West Des Moines, who has been using the social media, including Twitter, to spread the word about saving the Maplenol barn. “I’m hopeful that solutions can be found.”
Charles Housh, a 1983 VHS graduate and Good family descendant, is proud that his family’s barn has remained a part of West Des Moines for many years and is heartened by people’s support for the barn.
“While it’s up to the community what will happen next, I hope the barn can be saved. As long as it still stands, people will understand what Maplenol is and will remember the area’s farming heritage.”
You can contact Darcy Dougherty Maulsby at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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