Hilltop Barn

The Hilltop Water Co. Water Tower Barn as it stood prior to 2014, when it was disassembled board by board and put into storage. The Scandia Heritage Alliance has proposed a new site for the barn on Olinda Trail, just south of the Scandia Community Center. 

 

An historic building that once stood in downtown Scandia may have found a new home just down the road from its original location on Olinda Trail.

Scandia city officials last week tentatively agreed to give the Scandia Heritage Alliance a 50-year lease of several acres of city land south of the Scandia City Hall and Community Center where they might someday reconstruct the former Hilltop Water Co. Water Tower Barn.

Alongside the barn, the group would build a 160-180 seat outdoor amphitheater, a 3,500-square-foot Scandia Arts and Heritage Center and a walking trail system connecting the site with other Scandia locations. The plan calls for the group to pay just $1 per year for the land.

Peter Hilger, an architect who worked with the group on the potential site plan, offered a “high altitude view of what is possible on this site.”

Hilger said the barn would be prominent in the sight lines from both the north and south along Olinda Trail as one enters/exits Scandia’s downtown area.

The new site would also be within walking of the Gammelgarden Museum and the Community Center, which could facilitate joint programming opportunities. 

John Herman, an attorney and a volunteer for the Heritage Alliance, said reconstruction of the historic building accompanied by a community-oriented arts center would make the project score very highly for several state arts grants. 

“Small cities are able to make compelling cases because they don’t have the resources themselves,” Herman said. “I think we could…make something exciting happen. Two to three to four million would not be an unheard of request.”

The new site is not without its challenges, though.

Questions remain as to whether the land is buildable. While the site is relatively flat, it is surrounded on three sides by swamps.

Hilger and Scandia Heritage Alliance President Sue Rodsjo noted that some initial soil testing would be necessary within the next year to determine if the underlying soils are suitable for a foundation and/or a septic system.

“You can build on anything. For a price,” Hilger said. “The question is what is that price?”

The lot also currently houses a youth tee ball field, which the Alliance suggested would be relocated, ideally, to the east, behind the existing tee ball field on Oakhill Road.

As conditions of the proposed lease, Hilger and the Alliance members suggested a 1-year site feasibility study to prove the site is buildable and a 5-year time period to demonstrate a viable fundraising and business plan.

In agreement with the concept, the council tasked city staff with coming up with a surveyed legal description of the land and helping to develop the lease agreement.

“This is something that will draw people to the downtown area,” Mayor Christine Maefsky said.

Councilman Steve Kronmiller agreed.

“I really like that a private group is out there bringing new ideas,” he said.

History of the barn

The Water Tower Barn was constructed in the late 1800s and formerly housed a well and pump that serviced about 20 city households through the private Hilltop Water Company.

In late 2011, the Hilltop Water Company declared that the barn had outlived its usefulness and needed to be either torn down or relocated.

After several Scandia residents lobbied for its preservation, though, the barn was gently taken apart, board by board, and put into storage in 2014 by Rustic Innovations.

The Scandia Heritage Alliance was formed in 2018 and began fundraising through its now-annual progressive dinners. The non-profit group includes as members Herman, Rodsjo, Sarah Porubcansky, Maefsky, Pam Plowman Smith and others.

Other business:

• The council appointed city residents K.C. Douglas, Cathy Mackiewicz, Marschall Smith, Robert Wilmers and John Carney to serve on the city’s Internet Action Committee.

• The council granted annual tobacco sales license renewals to Scandia Olde Towne Liquor and Federated Coop/Speedway. Scandia Olde Towne Liquor also received its annual liquor license renewal.

• The council granted a special events permit for the Minnesotan Cup hockey tournament, to be held Jan. 24-25 in conjunction with Scandia’s Vinterfest. A fireworks permit was also granted for the festivities.

• The council hired Tal Swenson ($11 per hour) to serve as lead attendant for the Scandia ice skating rink. Emma Shaefer ($10.11 per hour), Leo Kressin and Crystal Stignani (both $10 per hour) were also hired as rink attendants.

The next Scandia City Council meeting will be held Dec. 4 at 6:30 p.m.

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