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Decision postponed six months for Barker House
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Daughter of Barker House architect reflects on Sawnee Mountain home’s potential demolition.

NORTH FORSYTH -- Over the last two weeks, Forsyth County officials have discussed demolishing the Barker House on Sawnee Mountain, and it appears a final decision will come in six months.

At a work session on Tuesday, Forsyth County commissioners voted 4-1, with District 5 Commissioner Jim Boff opposed, to allow the family of Jim Barker, the late architect of the iconic “spaceship” house, time to think of options for the home.

“It’s a burden lifted; it’s a big sigh of relief,” said Ellen Parham, Barker’s granddaughter, after the meeting. “We have a lot of thoughts and a very long to-do list on how to save my grandfather’s home, so having six months gives us a little breathing space.”

Under the agreement, the county will give the family and others the right to enter the property with county staff, but the county will not be liable for any injuries or other damage on the property, which has been plagued with vandalism and break-ins.

The county purchased the house – notable for its spaceship-like design – and the property surrounding it for $1.8 million in 2003, which was before any current commissioners began their terms.

“Because we’ve had to board up the windows and that kind of thing, it is very dark. It is hard to see. You almost need a flashlight and head lantern to go in,” Public Facilities Director Dennis Daniel said. “We found in some of the carpeted areas hypodermic needles … there is broken glass everywhere, so anybody that goes in needs appropriate lighting and shoes on.”

At a work session two week ago, commissioners voted to move forward with demolition of the house, before deciding at a regular meeting last week to re-evaluate options for the house after public outcry against its demise.

Under meeting rules, items passed at a work session are not formally approved until the consent agenda is approved at the ensuing regular meeting. At the regular meeting, commissioners took the Barker House off the consent agenda, thus removing the previous action.

Also at that meeting, county officials detailed the purchase and several studies done over the years to find a suitable use for the property, of which none were found to be plausible without significant and costly work being done.

A study done by Georgia Tech in 2004 found the property would need an additional lobby and tower for an elevator to meet American Disability Act standards.

Trespassing, vandalism and other legal problems are also issues facing the house.

Parham said her family is also looking into the issues and that she is skeptical of some of the county’s reasons, particularly issues with the housing failing to meet disability standards.

“We were devastated and decided to fight it,” she said. “I started kind of looking back into the history of the promises that the county made, the wording of the contracts and any of the studies and reasoning for demolishing.”

She said her family has been in contact with several conservation groups on the future of the house.

“Everything’s been sad,” Parham said. “It’s a structural work of art – it shouldn’t be lost forever. I understand one of the ideas of the county was building a pavilion [shaped like the house] in memory, but why make something in memory if you still have the original structure?”