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January 22. 2013 10:10PM

Future of the barn at the Educational Farm at Joppa Hill in Bedford in limbo

BEDFORD - The Board of Directors at the Educational Farm at Joppa Hill has refused to sign an agreement they discussed with the town earlier this month.

The Educational Farm at Joppa Hill had until last Friday to sign off on an agreement to repair its barn.

The farm had been given until July 1 to make all necessary repairs on the structure, which was found by the town's insurer to be unsafe, or see it demolished.

"The board has decided not to sign the agreement with the town for numerous reasons," said Michael Scanlon, President of the farms Board of Directors. "The board felt there were too many things that the town was looking for that were not acceptable to the farm."

Scanlon said that according to the farm's lease, the farm is still permitted to make renovations to the building, and plans to do so without tearing the barn down.

Town Manager Jessie Levine said she received word on Monday that the board would not sign the agreement.

At press time, Levine, along with several Town Council members, was expected to meet with the town's attorney to discuss how to proceed.

"At a minimum, it is likely that we will seek to close the barn to all users before the beginning of the summer season," Levine said. "We remain willing to renegotiate the lease with EFJH, but are not certain of their intentions at this time."

Levine said the farm brings value to Bedford, but doesn't feel that taxpayers should fund it.

"The mission of the farm is a wonderful use of the property, but we don't believe we've got an obligation to maintain the barn," she said.

Scanlon said he thought the town's intention was to raze the building all along, and wasn't convinced that the town negotiated in good faith with the farm.

Of particular issue was determining who would be responsible for hazardous material found on the property.

After a meeting last week, a final draft of the agreement sent to Scanlon indicated The town agreed to pay for the removal of ceiling tiles in the barn that are believed to contain asbestos, but Scanlon said that was the only responsibility for hazardous materials the town was willing to take.

"They said once they removed the tiles, they had no more responsibility for any hazardous materials on the property," Scanlon said. "When you start tearing things up, you find things. we can't absorb that kind of liability."

Levine said at their last face-to-face meeting with the town the two sides had appeared to come to an agreement.

"They made their concerns known," Levine said. "We agreed to some, and some, we didn't agree to."

Levine said she will wait to receive written communication from the farm's attorney before taking further action.

"We think there is some liability here to keeping it open," she said. "We can't have this safety issue hanging over our heads."

The town, which has leased the 35-acre parcel of land to the farm since 2001, had made repeated requests to the farm since fall 2010 to bring the 15,000 square-foot barn up to code, according to officials.

kremillard@newstote.com


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