Arguing that Florence Eble intended for her barn to remain standing in Eble Park as part of her donation to Waukesha County in 1987, her relatives are asking the county to halt demolition plans and consider incorporating the barn in the park's master plan.
Eble died in 1995, and county officials say their responsibility to preserve the barn ended at that point.
Elaine Moss, Eble's grandniece, retained attorney Janet Angus to send the county a letter asking it to repair the barn and silo on the property or return it to Eble's heirs.
"I've gone through a lot of articles and old letters, and we just really feel she never intended for the house and barn to be torn down," Moss said. "We think it was a good faith expectation on her part."
Dale Shaver, Waukesha County director of parks and land use, said Eble understood the deed she signed, which required the county to provide her access to the barn until her death. After that, Shaver said the county does not have any obligation to preserve the barn.
Shaver said there is "no chance" of the barn not being demolished, even if there was a fundraising effort to offset the cost of rehabilitating it — estimated at $89,000. In order to bring it up to codes for event rental, he said it would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
"Given its condition, I don't see that as a case," Shaver said. "And quite frankly, who would rent that?"
He said the county is interested in preserving parts of the barn in another form, like using pieces in a gazebo.
"We would envision at that site there would be some sort of description about the Ebles," Shaver said. "The county believes that is a great legacy to Florence and (her brother) Roy."
After meeting with county officials at the barn March 25, Moss said she still hoped to convince the county to hold off on demolition, for which preparations have already begun. She said the family felt excluded from the county's decision-making process to demolish the barn.
"We're just asking for a little more time to see if we could do something," she said. "The family feels it is one of the last vestiges of rural life in that area."
Ron Raasch of Two Hands Preservation, who has done restoration work on buildings more than a century old, said he thought the barn showed promise.
"It is a sound structure; it has a great deal of potential that hasn't really been assessed," Raasch said. "I think if there's more public awareness of the value of it as a piece of the landscape, I think a lot of people would be very shocked if they saw a wrecking ball there."
After the meeting, Moss said she wasn't sure what the family would do next, but she wasn't ready to give up.
"We're going to fight," Moss said. "Brookfield's going to have to fight, too."
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