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Deadline looms for farm at Joppa Hill to repair barn

BEDFORD - The Educational Farm at Joppa Hill has until Friday to sign off on an agreement to repair its barn, or the town will go forward with plans to raze the structure.

According to Town Manager Jessie Levine, the town has made repeated requests to the farm since the fall 2010 to bring its 15,000-square-foot barn up to code.

The town has leased the 35-acre parcel of land to the educational farm since 2001.

According to the nonprofit's website, its mission is to increase awareness about public space, sustainable agriculture and the environment by operating a working farm, one that it is the only remaining farm of its kind in Bedford.

In a Jan. 11 email to EFJH President Michael Scanlon, Levine said, "The town has been pushing for this since 2010 and has repeatedly asked EFJH to develop a plan, raise money and make improvements," adding that the town has also offered to loan money to the farm, take responsibility for removing the barn and take on the expense of removing asbestos in the barn's ceiling tiles.

Levine told Scanlon that a similar request was made to the Bedford Historical Society at their lease signing in 2010 with respect to the restoration of the Stevens-Buswell school.

"The historical society brought a proposal forward in 2009, an agreement was signed in 2010, and they are nearing completion, while the barn at Joppa Hill Farm remains in its deteriorating state, with no building plans, no sustained fundraising effort, and only repeated delays," Levine said.

A report in December 2010 by Castagna Consulting Group, LLC, which was hired by the town to evaluate conditions at the farm, indicated that the barn was nearly beyond repair.

"There doesn't appear to be any part of the structure that is on the verge of failing," the report read. "Continued neglect, however, will result in a building beyond repair within 2-3 years."

A second report by Castagna was issued in April 2012, stating that the barn could not likely be salvaged, and should be replaced.

After a meeting on Monday, a final draft of the agreement sent to Scanlon indicated that the town would entertain in good faith an agreement of up to 30 years with the farm, providing that it meets all public health and safety codes, laws and requirements.

The town has agreed to pay for asbestos removal in the barn and if EFJH opts not to proceed with the renovations based on the structural integrity of the roof after it is complete, can abandon renovation plans and vacate the property.

The farm must also prove to the town that it has the financial resources required to complete the project, which Levine said in an email to Scanlon Monday is of concern to the Town Council.

"It is important for me to emphasize that while we have not established a minimum cost of the reconstruction work, the councilors have expressed a great concern that the amount you referenced in today's meeting does not appear to be sufficient to what is going to be required," Levine said. "I say this because the whole point of this agreement is to set an absolute date for completion of all of the work. As the agreement states, if the work is not completed by the drop dead date, the barn will be razed."

In September 2010, the farm made a public appeal at a Town Council meeting for funding, which then-Treasurer Mark Hayner said had dropped by as much as 45 percent in the prior four years.

Levine said in a telephone interview that paying for the removal of the asbestos, at roughly $30,000-$40,000, will cost less than the $160,000 it would cost to raze the building.

"We would have to spend money to raze it; we may as well spend less and give them the opportunity to renovate it," she said.

Scanlon said he had no comment as to whether negotiations with the town were fair, and said the entire board at EFJH hasn't seen the final agreement.

Scanlon said the farm provides a unique benefit to both Bedford and surrounding communities.

"My hopes are that we flourish over the years and continue to be the asset we are today," he said. "I think Bedford has something that some people don't appreciate," he said.

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