– By Sharon Thatcher, Rural Builder magazine –
Joel Godwin, owner of J. A. Godwin General Contractors, Iowa, is learning that being flexible with customers, being open to new challenges, and being patient can yield fantastic buildings and happy customers.
A case in point is the award-winning Barnes’ Place project that placed first in the National Frame Building Association’s recent Builder of the Year competition in the category of Commercial Buildings, 5,000 – 10,000 square feet. The bones of the 4,500 square foot banquet hall is a new structure from Lester Buildings, but old barn board and barn beams, and rusted corrugated tin rescued from a dismantled building, combine to give it old barn charm. It has quickly become a popular setting for special occasions.
As the old saying goes: Good things come to those who wait, and that aptly describes this particular project. “My salesman, Bob Watts, had been in contact with Mrs. Barnes for several years on this project and we ended up getting it put together in a series of, I guess it might have been 20-some meetings,” Godwin explains.
The Barnes looked at other options but in the end chose post frame because actual construction would be faster and more affordable.
Another selling point was his crew. Godwin has two crews, one of them Amish. Mrs. Barnes preferred having the Amish crew on her build. “That kind of sold her on it,” Godwin said of the project. “She liked that idea that we had an Amish crew. They are honest, hard working and their word is gold. Some people think that the Amish work cheap, but they don’t. They demand a good wage and in return they provide a good job.”
Mrs. Barnes and her husband both work full-time jobs in ag businesses, so the reception hall was a special project that had some flexibility to grow and mature. Despite its uniqueness, Godwin did not use an architect . “Lester Buildings has an improv software where we can design the building,” Godwin notes. “We designed the building — the structure, the snow load, the basic footprint, the porch, the kitchen area and the loft.”
But he hastens to add that Mrs. Barnes, the inspired motivator behind the project, brought a considerable amount of usable ideas to the table. “A lot of people want a building but they don’t have the ability to visualize what it will look like. They aren’t like Mrs. Barnes. She had a vision,” he says.
Godwin enjoyed the creativity. “I feel like we’re kind of creative because we do some unique projects,” he says of J. A. Godwin General Contractors. Another project worth bragging rights is an entertainment lodge in Ankeny, Iowa. “It’s more of a ski lodge-looking building,” he describes. “An entertainment center and guest house. We showed the Barnes that building and it kind of built confidence in our ability to put a project for them together.
“We’ve been in business for 30 years and we’ve built everything from bridges to custom houses to horse facilities,” Godwin continues. “I’ve always liked the ability to design and build a project.”
Getting things done sometimes means knowing when to let someone else do the work, and for the unfamiliar parts of the project Godwin enlisted the help of a subcontractor who specializes in working with old wood.
“The 100-year-old barn boards were quite a challenge,” explains Godwin. “There’s such a variation in sizes, so just the installation of them on the side of the building is a challenge.” As the project’s general contractor, he felt the work was best left to a builder named Scott Henderson. “He specializes in that,” he explains. “He tears down old barns and then sells the wood and will do the installation of it.”
To prepare for the barn board, Godwin’s crew started with ¾-inch tongue and groove plywood. Over the plywood they installed Tyvek as a vapor block. “Henderson installed the barn board over our plywood and vapor barrier,” Godwin explains.
Henderson collaborated with Mrs. Barnes to create the unique Gambrel entryway featuring a flying gable and 50-foot porch topped with the repurposed corrugated tin.
To accommodate the barn’s height and heavy Midwestern snow loads, triple 2 by 8 columns were used.
For insulation, there’s 8-inches of soybean insulation in the sidewalls, giving it an enviable R-30 value. The use of soybean insulation is something that struck the customer’s fancy. “We had several sources for insulation,” Godwin says. “Iowa Foam Insulators from Nevada, Iowa was one of the subcontractor options we gave her,” he says. Because of the couple’s rural background, it was a tantalizing option. “Once she discovered it was a soy bean-based product, that’s what they wanted,” Godwin says.
Step inside and the Barnes’ Place does not disappoint. The exposed trusses are Lester Buildings pre-raised bottom cord trusses that have been wrapped in barn board. A mixture of barn board and sheetrock are used on the interior walls.
A loft was built at one end of the barn and dressing rooms created upstairs for weddings. The bride can enter unseen up a back staircase, then make her entrance down a second grand staircase.
One of the details later added by the owner was a faux corncrib with the traditional slatted wood sides. “It covers up the rear staircase,” Godwin explains. “You look at it and you think you’re looking at a hundred-year-old corncrib.”
Other notable products used on the project include Lester Uni-Rib 26 gauge roofing; Prairie Pella windows and doors; and high-quality galvanized screw fasteners.
Taken in total, the project is a true winner in every respect. Although located down a gravel road and a 1,000 foot driveway, hidden from view by a bluff on the owners’ farm, special occasions at the Barnes’ Place is already booked into the year 2015.