August 14,  2003

Already the best-known barn in northern Delaware, the Blue Ball Barn may be in for some national recognition when the state Division of Parks & Recreation gets through with fixing it up. More than four months before the first spade is turned and at least 18 months before the job is expected to be finished, the division is vying for a silver medal from the U.S. Green Building Council.

"Delaware is serious about the rating we're striving for," Joseph Healy, senior associate with Wallace Roberts & Todd, the department's planning and design consultant for the Blue Ball Project, told a large turnout of representatives of prospective contractors for the job.

The Washington-based council, which is not a government agency, describes itself as "the nationís foremost coalition of leaders from across the building industry working to promote buildings that are environmentally responsible, profitable and healthy places [in which] to live and work"

Healy told a pre-bidding briefing on Aug. 13 that whoever gets the general contract will be expected to toe the mark. Among other things, the firm will have to employ someone who is certified by the

council in environmentally sensitive construction management, engage a subcontractor with experience in historical demolition, carefully recycle material and make sure that nothing of potential historic interest gets mixed in with the trash.

"You won't be able to bring a dumpster in and just haul the stuff away," he said.

The barn was built in the 1920s by Alfred I. du Pont as an adjunct to his estate, Nemours. Housing dairy cattle, it stood on the site of an earlier tavern. The site, at the intersection of Concord Pike and Rockland Road, takes  its name from the blue glass

James Healy explains the intricacies of the Blue Ball Barn rebuilding contract to a standing-room-only crowd of perspective bidders on the project.

 ball that the tavern keeper set on a post to signal stagecoach drivers on the Wilmington-to-West Chester run to stop for passengers. There is a wood replica of the ball and post, carved by the late Malcolm MacKenzie, at the site today, the latest a series of such markers put there over the years.

Although dairy barns are common, the contractors were cautioned that this one "is not your typical barn structure." Both its base and its second story are built on poured-concrete slabs and the layered roof is supported by steel tresses. Being a Du Pont Co. executive until deposed by his cousins, A.I. "had numerous contacts with engineers," Healy said. "That why the barn has continued to stand as long as it has."

Du Pont also had a strong fear of fire, which resulted in there being much asbestos in the structure. Wooden doors, for instance, are lined with asbestos and covered with metal cladding. The contractor will be expected to preserve the wood, correctly handle and dispose of the asbestos, and recycle the metal.

In addition to historic considerations, the builder will have to provide for installation of 'public art', in the form of stonework, tiled paths serving the facility and sculpture around it.

On the other hand, Mark Chura, manager of preservation and development, said that the division "will be flexible" about adhering to the project's 400-day completion deadline in order to provide the redevelopment contractor with leeway to work cooperatively with the Delaware Department of Transportation contractor rebuilding Concord Pike and installing two overpasses between Augustine Cut-Off and Independence Mall.

That work is scheduled to begin in early November, with the first task being removal of the large mounds of dirt and stone on the site, providing the barn contractor with a proverbial level playing field.

Although Chura told the contractors that a final budget his not yet been approved, the project has previously been said to likely cost in the neighborhood of $4 million.

As previously reported, restoration of the barn and nearby former milk-storage house includes construction of a two-story addition of a contrasting design behind it to serve as an administration and support facility for both the barn and the rest of the Alapocas Run section of Wilmington State Parks, which will straddle Concord Pike. The barn complex will be its signature feature.

The barn is to be "as flexible a facility as possible to give the state [division] a wide option for [its] use," Healy said. The principal function will be as a museum and meeting place. It also will be rented to the public for various purposes, including functions with catered meals.

Among the environmental design features called for in the contract specifications is what Healy referred to as "a rain-harvesting system." That, he explained is intended to catch rainwater and save it for use in the toilets in the support annex.

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