Barnard House project to be jewel in Pocopson's crown

(Courtesy Photo): A rendering of the master campus plan for the Barnard House project in Pocopson Township. The county turned over control of the home last fall, and the township's administration is hoping to renovate and expand the building to use for their central offices and as a new home for the Kennett Underground Railroad Center.

When Chester County officially turned over the historic Barnard House to Pocopson Township last fall, the administration had some definite ideas for the location.

At first, it was to be home to the township's administrational offices. It was also going to share its space with the now defunct Kennett Underground Railroad Museum, which closed its doors nearly five years ago.

But as the supervisors explored their options for the building and the 68-acre lot it sits on, the idea to transform the land into an extensive community campus finally took hold.

With its location along Route 52 - a designated Scenic Byway - board member Lauressa McNemar said the building and campus could also serve as the official "Welcome to Pocopson" site for visitors and travelers.

Now, it's just a matter of ... well, money.

"We could do everything we wanted if we had $1.5 million," McNemar said, adding that there is currently nowhere near that amount in the project's coffers.

Township Supervisor Georgia Brutscher said that the campus, located on S. Wawaset Road adjacent to the Pocopson Home, would be the township's center, a place where community groups can meet and families can gather and enjoy the open space and extensive township-wide trail network.

The campus project also incorporates the nearby Locust Grove School House and the adjacent Pocopson Township Park.

To that end, the supervisors and committee members are hopeful that residents will rally around the idea and help support what they see as a project designed to bring the Pocopson community together.

Calling the Barnard House one of the "gems" in Underground Railroad locations, Kennett Underground Railroad Center president Mary Dugan said that the arrangement is perfect for the KURC, particularly because of Pocopson's involvement in their history.

"They're so interested in local history for itself and for letting people know about their history," she said, adding that she is delighted to work with Pocopson on the project.

Brutscher added that with the inclusion of the KURC, the over 150-year-old building would attract people from throughout the region, including Maryland and Delaware.

"We get calls from locals throughout the Delaware Valley," Dugan said regarding the KURC. "I've had bus groups from Philadelphia through Baltimore."

She added that the Underground Railroad is enjoying somewhat of a revival in interest in the pats few years, with inquires coming to the KURC Website from around the country.

"Many black people are also focusing on it and getting a sense of pride and interest that they didn't have before," she said.

Lead architect Dennis Melton said that the best beginning of a sustainable project is an existing historic building that is in reasonably good shape.

"It was nice to see when we took a close look at it that it was structurally sound," Melton said.

Melton said that the building, which in recent years had served as a dwelling, does not have any one room large enough to serve as a meeting space.

"The meeting room is therefore an addition and it can be as large as it needs to be," Melton.

That space, Melton said, would have a flexible setup that would allow it to be used for multiple purposes, from meetings to educational opportunities.

Brutscher said that McNemar has been working to ensure that the new building is as "green" as a building with an existing footprint can be.

The restored building will use a geothermal heating and cooling system and be fully insulated. Storm windows will be attached on the inside to provide additional insulation and to also preserve the exterior character of the building, which still has its original windows.

An existing cistern could also be used as a rainwater retention basin and for a gray water source.

"We want to use this as an example to the community as what you can do with an old building, and that it can have a whole new life, but it will be energy efficient and as historically correct as we can keep it," Brutscher said.

Although the plan is to keep things as green as possible, the township is not looking for LEED status from the beginning, although Melton said they would track the certification possibilities.

"The main purpose is to set up a sustainable example for the township rather than go for certification," he said.

McNemar said she sees the building as a perfect project for the township because of its multifaceted nature.

"It has everything," she said. "It has cultural significance, it has historical significance ... the project touts a 50 percent reduction in energy usage, it's going to create 35 jobs throughout the construction. And it's not just a building - it's the campus. The trailhead will be designated there."

It is also a huge increase in the availability of public space when compared to the existing space along Denton Hollow Road, McNemar said - up to seven times more space, in fact.

"To me, I don't know what else you could add in terms of benefits to a project that serves an entire community," McNemar said.

The township is looking to start a capital campaign to raise funds for the project, which comes it at just under $1.3 million in pre-bid estimation.

That figure includes:

-$290,000 for exterior site work, from parking and stormwater management to replacing/repairing doors and windows

-$200,000 for a planned addition to be used as extra meeting space

-$440,000 for interior renovations

-$250,000 for additional renovations to the Locust Grove School House.

With little to no public funds currently available, McNemar said, any money put into the project at this point is simply to keep it from physically falling apart.

Brutscher said it's the supervisor's hope to inspire township residents with their goals for the building, to the point that the public is willing to help in any way, from donations of time or money to additional volunteer support.

"We would love to name our meeting room after somebody," she said.

To help or to donate to the Barnard restoration project, please contact the township at 610-793-2151.

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