News

Free barn

Anybody want a barn?

Neal Noorlag is a rare man with two spare barns. What makes it even more unusual is that both barns are smack-dab in the middle of Oak Harbor, within view of Highway 20.

Noorlag is giving away one of the barns free, while the other he hopes to sell someday. The free barns come with $10,000 from The Home Depot, the giant home-improvement-supply company that bought the 13.5 acre site that the barn sits on from the Noorlag family.

The catch is that whoever wants the free, split-level barn has to take it away. An expert at moving such structures estimated the cost of moving the barn intact would be $32,490 to prepare the structure for moving and then moving it; $21,500 for new foundation work; and $30,000 for contingency costs in working with utility companies to avoid the disturbance of phone, power and cable lines during the move.

With the free $10,000, that’s a grand total of about $74,000 to get a new old barn, which is 29 feet tall and measures 20-foot wide by 50-foot long. Of course, there may be ways to lower the cost.

Noorlag, who was a television news editor in Los Angeles, recently moved back home to live in the Ely Street house he and his sister, Kelly Pook, grew up in. Adjacent to the house in the grassy field where he used to ride horses, playing horseback “cops and robbers” with friends.

“It was a great place to grow up,” he said.

The community was a much different place when Noorlag was a boy. He remembers when his father, the late Neal Noorlag, Sr., used to ride his horse over to meet Henry Wichers, who lived on a farm where Kmart now sits.

Noorlag said his father and mother, Elsie, purchased the farm from the Parker family about 50 years ago. The land, which originally stretched to where Blockbuster sits, had two barns, a farm house and a greenhouse. Neal Noorlag, Sr., wanted to grow tulips, but found the land wasn’t fertile enough. To keep the grass down, he decided to raise Hackney horses, to the delight of his children.

Over the years, the farm has been surrounded on all sides by both commercial and residential development. State Route 20 cut away a piece of the western edge. Along the highway, the Seventh Day Adventist Church and Oak Tree Plaza lie on one side and a strip mall with Discount Party Store is on the other.

Nowadays, the horses are gone and the field is zoned as commercial. It is the last major piece of undeveloped land on Highway 20 in Oak Harbor.

But not for long. Tuesday night the Oak Harbor planning commission approved The Home Depot’s application to build 102,000-square-foot home improvement center and an attached 28,000-square-foot garden center, along with 407 parking stalls, on the field. Since the construction will be on top of 0.4 acres of wetland, The Home Depot had to mitigate the loss by creating 0.86 acres of wetland on a piece of property they purchased just south of the site.

Senior Planner Larry Cort told the commission members that The Home Depot will be required to plant trees and build a “sound wall” between the site and homes on Ely Street. In addition, the owners of the seven houses that will be most effected each get $1,000 in credit from the store’s garden center.

Noorlag said the city zoned the field to accomodate big-box retailers, so the family had little choice but to sell it to a major company like The Home Depot. “It was zoned commercial,” he said, “and the taxes shot up so high, you know you need to do something.”

Noorlag said he was pleased with how sympathetic The Home Depot officials have been to the neighborhood and how they’ve worked with him to try to find a new home for the old barn.

The history of the structure is a bit sketchy. Cort said he has an arial photograph from the 1920s that shows the barn within “a cluster of agricultural buildings” at the site.

Noorlag remembers playing in the barn as a child, jumping on a loft and swinging on a rope. It’s a two-level barn, with the bottom level partly built into the ground, and a loft above the main floor. They used the main floor to store hay and the bottom floor to feed the horses in winter.

Jim Figel, a Seattle real estate broker representing the Noorlags, said the family went to great lengths to find someone to take the barn, which currently sits where the store will. “The Krueger Farm people” in Coupeville and folks from barn reclamation groups considered the building, but in the end decided they didn’t want it.

“We were told that it’s not a significant structure,” Figel said. “They like them to be overbuilt, because of the big, huge timbers. ... This is a fairly standard pole barn.”

Even though the value of the barn is in doubt, Cort suggested that the Noorlags and The Home Depot try a last-ditch effort to find a taker for the structure by putting an ad for a free barn in the News-Times. The ad, which has run for a week, states that the barn should remain in the city limits, but that’s not a requirement.

If nobody comes forward in time for the Aug. 14 deadline for moving it, there’s still a good chance that the barn wood will be reused. Cort said the nonprofit South Whidbey group Goosefoot Community Fund has expressed interest in re-using the wood, possibly re-milling it and offering it to the community. Figel said he also got one promising calls from a small company that might be interested in taking some of the wood.

“We don’t want someone to just come and take down the barn and use it for firewood,” Figel said.

For Noorlag, losing the old barn is a sad, but necessary step. “It’s so great to drive along the highway and see this barn,” he said. “It takes my back to my childhood.”

Get the barn

Anyone interested in the free Noorlag barn should call Jim Figel at 206-650-5864.

You can reach News-Times reporter Jessie Stensland at jstensland@whidbeynewstimes.com or call 675-6611.

Community Events, April 2014

Add an Event
We encourage an open exchange of ideas on this story's topic, but we ask you to follow our guidelines for respecting community standards. Personal attacks, inappropriate language, and off-topic comments may be removed, and comment privileges revoked, per our Terms of Use. Please see our FAQ if you have questions or concerns about using Facebook to comment.
blog comments powered by Disqus

Read the latest Green Edition

Browse the print edition page by page, including stories and ads.

Apr 19 edition online now. Browse the archives.