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Barn Raising Planned for Jan. 21: Old World Construction Meets Innovative Engineering

Barn Raising Planned for Jan. 21: Old World Construction Meets Innovative Engineering

Berkshire Botanical Garden will hold a “barn-raising” on Saturday, Jan. 21, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Made of locally harvested and milled trees, the “barn” in question is a botanical work of art that combines old world post-and-beam construction with innovative engineering and design elements. 

With its final touches set for completion by spring, the building — 30-foot-by-50-foot, single-story, 18 feet tall — and its adjoining spaces will serve as the new heart of BBG’s popular Farm in the Garden Camp. 

The barn raising event will include live fiddle and guitar music and cider pressed on the spot. Roof trusses will be set into place. A coniferous bough will be affixed upon a truss, a traditional ceremony that pays homage to the trees that went into a particular construction and symbolizes the establishment of the building’s “roots.” The bough is referred to as a “wetting bush.” 

The project is being funded by donors who will be on hand.

“The donors had been looking for a way to honor and celebrate their deceased mother who was a big promoter of education and nature,” said Matthew Larkin, chair of BBG’s Board of Trustees. “This project couldn’t be more appropriate.” 

Larkin, who did the initial design for the building, had originally envisioned a simple structure with sliding barn doors set on a concrete slab, all built to match the height and roof pitch of the adjacent Education Building. The new building certainly will include those elements. But then Larkin presented the project to A.J. Schnopp Jr., Construction Inc., of Dalton, Mass. That’s the same company that served as general contractor for BBG’s renovated and expanded Center House, which artfully includes one of the oldest structures in Stockbridge amidst a new state-of the-art facility. 

Gregg Schnopp had a suggestion for this current project. He introduced Larkin to two men with the expertise to create a structure that matches BBG’s overall creative and utilitarian aesthetic.

Scott Brockway, of Berkshire Wood Products in Windsor, Mass., is one. Adam Miller, a carpenter and consultant from Vermont, is the other. 

Brockway serves as the project’s manager and sawyer. He harvested and milled seven species of trees for the project. Most of the trees are from within a two-mile radius of his Windsor mill. Some come from the BBG’s’ own woods. 

Miller took Larkin’s plans and designed a final building, utilizing his expertise in timber and log framing and complicated, innovative work in organic form scribing. The main 30-foot-by-50-foot portion of the Farm in the Garden Camp building will function as an unheated pavilion. It will be sheathed in vertical boards. Its creative design will best be appreciated from the inside where traditionally planed and squared-off Eastern White Pine timbers will be twinned with a structural support system that incorporates varying species and sizes of tree forks, those Y-shaped sections of trees that bifurcate in the trunk and give rise to two roughly equal diameter branches.

“It’ll be a very nice hierarchy of sizes of timbers as they go up, defining smaller and smaller segments of the space in the roof,” Miller said.

“It’s going to be cool — really cool,” said Brockway.

A separate bathroom wing, about 14 feet by 12 feet in size, will be appended to the structure and clad in horizontal shou sugi ban charred wood. It’ll have a root cellar beneath it.

The trusses for the main building have already been assembled and await delivery in Brockway’s shop. All other elements of the building are ready for assembly. With approvals in hand from Stockbridge town officials, the raising is set to begin.

“My thought from the beginning was that this building and camp ‘campus,’ if you will, would give our day campers a really rustic experience but in an aesthetic way,” said Larkin. “We have a certain way we like things to look around the Garden. I’m super excited that it’s going to be such a piece of art, which is not what I was originally anticipating.”

With the new building, BBG can increase the number of weekly campers from 30 children a week to 50 a week. Farm in the Garden Camp is held for eight weeks in the summer and on the two weeks corresponding with the public school system’s February and April breaks. The day camp, which serves children aged 6 through 14, provides children with the opportunity to care for plants and animals, plant and harvest vegetables, collect eggs, go on nature walks, create botanical crafts, and learn about the natural world.

“Extensive scientific research has revealed that establishing connections to nature in early childhood is important to building self-confidence, independent spirit and critical thinking,” said Thaddeus Thompson, BBG’s executive director.

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