ASHLAND — Desperate for space, Willow Wind Community Learning Center is embarking on a $675,000 project to renovate a 114-year-old barn into a performance and classroom venue.

ASHLAND — Desperate for space, Willow Wind Community Learning Center is embarking on a $675,000 project to renovate a 114-year-old barn into a performance and classroom venue.

Teachers, parents and the Ashland School District, which operates Willow Wind as an alternative program, have raised $575,000 so far for the remodel, which is set to begin this spring.

"It's important to the kids' education," says parent Jeanne Chouard, who is active in the campaign. "It develops a sense of place and community in a time of change and more subdivisions.

"When they help save an old building like this, it gives the kids a sense of history they can live and breathe."

The farm was settled in 1884 by banker Henry B. Carter and his wife, Harriet. The farmhouse and barn were built around 1894 by prominent settler Charles Abbot.

The 4,400-square-foot structure is one of the few remaining timber-frame barns built with mortise and tenon joints in Southern Oregon, says historic restoration contractor Jay Treiger of Ashland. Treiger firmed up the sagging, foot-square fir timbers and anchored them with cables.

"The barn was sprung in parts, twisting and bulging, and was grabbed back from the brink," says Treiger. "It's an important link to our agricultural past. They're so rare as to be almost vanished. Any time you can come up with a public use for a large agricultural building, it's great."

Because of the decline of ranching and the expense of maintenance on old barns, most farmers have to let them fall down, says Treiger.

Response from the community and foundations has been strong, says Judith Anne McBride, a Willow Wind teacher.

"A lot of people are interested in this barn, saving it for its historical value and using it as a medium-sized educational and gathering space," she notes.

In addition to grants from foundations and trusts, $150,000 from the Ashland School District's capital bond, passed by voters last November, will be used toward the remodel.

The barn will get a modern foundation and walls, with earthquake retrofit and handicapped accessibility, but will retain its historic look from the outside, says Treiger.

Inside will primarily be an open space with mezzanine, suitable for dancing, music and classes during school hours. It will be available for rent to the public other times for speeches, performances and other activities, with moveable seating for up to 200, says McBride.

"The 250 students here are crammed in a very small space now, sometimes with kids doing band on one side of a room and algebra on the other," says Chouard.

"And for any celebrations, we have to go outside or to the park," adds McBride.

For decades in the mid-20th century, the Inlow family kept cows, horses and sheep in the barn and marketed dairy products to Ashland. The 44-acre spread in 1977 became the Chautauqua Ranch School, run by the Ochs family. In 1995, it became the Waldorf School of the Rogue Valley. Ashland School District bought it in 1999.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.