By Nathan Mayberg
LIBERTY October 7, 2005 After approximately 100 years as an artifact of one of the oldest facilities used by the Loomis Memorial Sanitarium for Consumptives and then as part of the Town of Liberty Highway Barn the aging structure along Route 52 in Liberty will be demolished this month, along with the rest of the facility, after the Town of Liberty Board on Monday approved a bid which would replace the entire structure.
The move was a blow to Sullivan County Historian John Conway, local architect Robert Dadras and others who sought to preserve the building as a relic of one of the most important periods and businesses in the history of Liberty.
The town board, led by Supervisor Frank DeMayo, was close to tearing down the barn back in June, until a last-minute plea by Conway saved it. The board sought out alternative options to build the new highway barn while preserving the old Loomis Barn. But on Monday, DeMayo said it would cost $200,000, and the town does not have that kind of money to save the barn.
DeMayo said he signed the contract on Monday to tear down the building and construct a new one at a total cost of $2,710,250, including electric and plumbing. The town awarded the construction and demolition bid to Building Corp. 2 in Middletown.
The supervisor, Councilman Sean Hanofee and Town Highway Superintendent Timothy Pellam have attested to the poor condition of the buildings, calling them a liability.
On Monday, DeMayo said he spent about 40 hours looking for a way to save the barn but was unsuccessful. The current location of the old Loomis barn is ideal for the highways use of utilities and would lessen the need for additional roads, he explained. If it was left to stand and the rest of the barn was built elsewhere, there would be issues with hills on site and the necessity for a controlled fill, he said. Another section of the property has been contaminated by dumped salt and would not be conducive to building, DeMayo added.
DeMayo said he respected the passion and knowledge [of Conway] for saving buildings, but I have a responsibility to the taxpayers.
Indeed, Conway had written two in-depth articles on the old Loomis facilities, including the current town highway barn, over the last several months in the Sullivan County Democrat. He toured the barn with Councilman Maurice Gerry, who helped delay the demolition. But in the end, it was a matter of money and time.
Conway was clearly displeased with the decision to tear down a building he considers important to Sullivan County history.
Im dismayed to hear it, said Conway.
However, he acknowledged it is up to the community to decide what is worth preserving and hold its elected officials accountable accordingly.
Conway said that although the barn didnt stand out architecturally, its historical significance is great. Built in 1910, the barn is still intact as it was 95 years ago as shown in pictures Conway obtained.
The Loomis facilities became internationally acclaimed at the turn of the 20th century for the work of renowned doctor Dr. Alfred Lebbeus Loomis in helping victims of tuberculosis heal in a cleaner environment primarily utilizing fresh air during the 1890s and the first half of the 20th century.
Fresh food such as eggs and milk were produced at the Loomis dairy farm and were a major factor in improving the health of those afflicted with the deadly illness. Proper nutrition and exercise were a heavy part of the recovery process.
By 1921, the death rate from one of historys deadliest diseases dropped by approximately 60 percent in New York City.
Some of the nations most prominent families had relatives at the sanitarium or donated money to assist the facilities.
Although the barn took little note from layman observers, the architecture of several remaining buildings including the sanatorium itself are considered among the most striking in the county to amateur and professional historians and architects alike.
However, DeMayo said the preservationists only had a semblance of a plan to save the barn. The town needed more detail, he remarked. With the winter quickly approaching, time had run out. Pellam said that the barn structures are in such poor shape that snow blows right inside during the cold months.
Pellam added that the Loomis barn has holes in the roof, and the wall is cracking. Shingles have blown off, and closing the doors can be a hassle.
The supervisor said he scheduled a meeting two weeks ago to discuss the cost implications of the proposals, but nobody showed up. In addition, he said he invited some of those who wanted to save the barn to his office to review the plans.
DeMayo explained that the barn has needed to be replaced for ten years.
The longer we wait, the more it costs. Construction costs go up.
Conway said he and other supporters of preserving the barn drew up a plan which would stabilize it and improve the building at a far lower cost than the $200,000 figure DeMayo is referring to. The countys historian admitted, however, that the plan was hastily arranged due to short notice.
Still, Conway said it was up to the local community to determine whether the barn was worth saving. Every year, he fields about a dozen calls from local residents asking him why a building wasnt saved at which time it is too late. Its still not too late on this one, he said.
The countys 12-year historian said that money is a factor but also a necessity in preserving historic buildings.
Historic preservation is OK as long as it doesnt cost money but thats not a practical approach, he concluded.