Bennington College's Barn heading toward full use after serious fire


NORTH BENNINGTON — Not yet two months after a serious fire, the Barn at Bennington College is moving toward full usage.

The Barn, the college's main administration building, sustained an estimated at $250,000 in damage in the April 30 fire. It took about 125 firefighters from over a dozen New York and Vermont fire departments nearly two hours to contain.

Both the first and second floor of the building are now open and accessible, with the exception of the damaged southeast wing, said Alex Dery Snider, director of media relations and public affairs at the college.

The second floor first opened back up earlier this month. The first floor has been open for longer, Snider said.

Snider said she did not have an idea when the Barn might be fully open again.

"I do know that we've been engaging with our community in sort of hopes and dreams and ideas about the Barn," Snider said. She said the ultimate goal is to restore the Barn to full usage.

"I'm not sure exactly what form that will take," she said. "I think those decisions have not been made, but we are looking forward to being back in the whole Barn."

The college will be working on design and planning over the summer, she said in an email.

Although the fire was awful, it's been amazing to see how the community has come together in the aftermath, Snider said.

"And people have been really patient and accommodating," she said. "It's going to roll out in phases, but we're adapting sort of as it comes. It's been a really wonderful time to be a community."

Data wiring and electrical work will continue until the end of the month, so while wireless internet should be available in many areas, some spaces may have limited access to power or hardwired data until that work is complete, Snider said in an email.

The Barn, a horseshoe-shaped, two-story, wood-frame structure located in the center of campus, was built as a purely agricultural structure at the turn of the 20th century. It now contains classrooms, the college bookstore and various offices. The southeast corner of the building houses the president's office, the communications office and the bookstore.

The northeast entry adjacent to the provost and dean's office is also open again as an entrance to the Barn.

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Investigators believe the fire at the Barn was accidental, caused either by the state of the aged wiring or by an errant nail from siding and trim work that had been ongoing.

Tests of mold, carbon and asbestos fibers have also been conducted to determine air quality after the fire.

The college has engaged a licensed environmental firm to perform professional air quality testing in all occupied areas of the Barn, including Phase Contrast Microscopy (PCM) test for airborne particulate.

This test to detect the presence of asbestos fibers was conducted at multiple locations on the first and second floor, Snider said in the email.

The test results showed levels of airborne particulate "well within" standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency and the state for clean indoor air, she said.

Mold and carbon tests were also conducted.

The mold test identifies types and relative concentrations of airborne mold spores, and uses outdoor, or ambient, levels as a baseline for comparison to indoor air.

Results of tests in the Barn showed that all levels of spores matched exactly what is in the outdoor air, but at lower levels, demonstrating that there are no indoor sources for molds that could result from moisture issues and that all indoor mold spores are coming in from outdoor air.

These results also show that indoor mold levels are not an air quality concern, Snider said in the email.

Carbon testing was also conducted to identify whether this is any "carbon black" (soot) particles remaining in the air, Snider said in the email.

The testing demonstrated levels of carbon black that were "far below" exposure limits, she said in the email. The highest detectable level in the Barn was 98 percent below levels set by particular occupational health and safety organizations, she said in the email.

All ductwork for the AC systems throughout the building was also professionally cleaned before turning on any system, she said.

Patricia LeBoeuf can be reached at, at @BAN_pleboeuf on Twitter and 802-447-7567, ext. 118.


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