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Posted: 06/11/14

Wash Twp seeks safety
for Octagon House barns

Observer Staff Writer
      Washington Township is asking the Octagon House to update its aging barns or face the consequences.
       Supervisor Dan O'Leary said the Octagon House's barns, located on Van Dyke north of 26 Mile Road, are in violation of fire and building codes, and should not be used for events until they meet those standards.
       He said the township warned its purveyors of this fact in October and offered to work with them. He said, though, that someone reported they were still holding events in the barn despite not bringing the building up to code.
       "We sat them down, explained to them what they need to do to come in compliance with all those things so they can do what they want," O'Leary said. "They've chosen not to do the things we asked them to do, and they've gone out and entered into more contracts."
       The barns were built in the late 1960s, and are used for events like weddings, showers, graduation parties and seminars to bring in revenue. They are mainly used in the summer months since they are not heated.
       O'Leary called it inappropriate for the non-profit to operate a "banquet center" and host events in a building without a sprinkler system, fire exits, or emergency plans that other businesses are required to have.
       "We have told them if they continue to do so, we're going to have to take them to court," he said. "You cannot put the public in jeopardy, whether you're a charity or not, and violate safety-driven law because you just don't want to follow it."
       He said the township is willing to work with the Octagon House board so it can continue to host events in the barn by installing the proper safety measures.
       "I'm not against them doing what they're doing within the law," he said.
       O'Leary said in addition to updating the barn, the non-profit would have to seek the proper zoning to hold certain activities. He said if they don't take the proper steps and hold more events, the township will issue a notice of violation.
       "We're not being unreasonable, we're just telling them be safe and follow the law," he said. "If we don't do it with them, we're playing favorites."
       Susi DiPace, president of the Friends of the Octagon House executive board, said the board does want people to be safe, and believes an agreement can be reached with the township.
       "They have always worked with us," she said. "It seems like whenever we've needed them or they've needed us we've been there for one another, and I believe in my heart that is going to continue."
       She said the Octagon House has been holding events in the barns for seven years, while the Octagon House itself has been in place for 156 years.
       "We all want what is best for our guests," she said.
       According to the Octagon House's website, restoration efforts includes repairing cinder block walls, re-grading the perimeter, replacing dormers, windows, floor boards and wall panels. They also include updating and installing electrical, plumbing, heating and cooling systems.
       The site states the barns are "virtually irreplaceable displays of period craftsmanship." The 5,230 square-foot two-story barn received a new roof in June 2006, paying $12,500 to straighten and strengthen the roof.
       The Friends of the Octagon House is a non-profit organization.

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