As a stellar athlete at St. Johnsbury Academy, Taryn Nye left her mark on the school’s track program, but as an architect, Taryn Nye Barrett is making an even bigger impression locally.
The Class of 2002 graduate designed the Three Rivers Path pavilion on Bay Street and is the lead architect of the $15 million New Avenue building restoration at the corner of Eastern Avenue and Railroad Street.
Barrett’s maiden name is Nye, and it was well-known when she competed on the Academy track team and as a cross country runner. She held the school’s record in the high jump for 14 years and was named among the nominees for the Caledonian-Record’s top local athlete of all time.
Barrett’s athletic prowess secured for her a scholarship at Miami-Ohio University where she became a Division I track star. Competing in the heptathlon, twice she was named Mid-American Conference’s Field Athlete of the Week.
She graduated from the university with a Master’s degree in architecture in 2008 and began working for Duncan Wisniewski Architecture in Burlington. She also married her “high school sweetheart” T.J. Barrett, a St. Johnsbury native and Academy grad. They live in Colchester with their children. T.J. is a lieutenant with the Burlington Fire Department.
Taryn came to St. Johnsbury as a high school sophomore. There was a connection to the area as her father grew up in Monroe, N.H., but when she was 5, the family left their home in Canaan, N.H. and moved to Michigan. Taryn said she was not happy about the move as a teenager from Michigan to St. Johnsbury.
“I was pretty angry,” she said. She recalled the close bonds she made with fellow schoolmates growing up in a small town in Michigan and being upset she had to say goodbye. “For me to move to St. Johnsbury as a teenager, I wasn’t really happy about it. I probably wasn’t very pleasant.”
She would accept the transition and thrive in her new environment, academically and athletically. She credits Academy teacher and Coach Chip Langmaid as being “a great mentor for me as a student-athlete.” Helping to develop her drawing skills was teacher Larry Golden, she said.
Taryn traces her interest in architecture to her childhood, remembering the many design magazines and sample books in her home. Her mom was an interior designer.
“I loved rearranging the furniture in my bedroom,” she said. “I found for myself that working with my hands, whether building a model or doing some kind of craft, was rewarding, and it could hold my attention more than reading or writing.”
After college graduation, Taryn made the Burlington area her home, joining T.J. whose career was already established at the BFD. It was as an architect with Duncan Wisniewski Architecture, that she found a path back to St. Johnsbury.
The Three Rivers Path that runs along the Passumpsic River is intended to encourage Lamoille Valley Rail Trail users to get to downtown St. Johnsbury. A new pavilion on Bay Street greets trail users just before they reach downtown. It was designed by Taryn.
She said she didn’t play a role in the actual construction but is pleased with how it turned out.
“I like that it’s different than what you might expect than other more typical picnic pavilions,” she said. “It feels a bit modern.”
“We wanted to create this moment when you have arrived (in town from the path),” said Taryn, “and that is the intent of the building is to say you’ve gotten somewhere.”
Taryn’s work in designing the pavilion received high praise from local resident James Herold, who is a retired architect.
In a commentary published earlier by The Caledonian-Record Herold called the pavilion a “small gem and, to my mind, St. Johnsbury’s first and only example of modern architecture.”
He described his favorite features.
“The pavilion itself is a study in complexity: the front-to-back asymmetry of the roof (a clever design move that avoids the banality of predictable symmetry) opens to the sun and to the approach paths. The result is two interior spaces of unequal volume, partial enclosure of which is achieved with latticework and solid panels whose location varies unexpectedly, juxtaposing open and closed in dynamic ways.
“There are two entrances, and very different: from the town side one encounters a formal facade – a portico of columns that instinctively read as a grand entrance to be approached slowly, but – at ninety degrees, and on the far short side – the entrance from the Trail is a violent plunge into the full depth of the interior, arrested only at a large mural (a custom work by the noted street artist ARCY). Which is the real entrance?
“A simple picnic pavilion with yet a cubist-recalling play of spatial dynamics and the quiet presence and craftsmanship of a Zen temple. Once in use, I hope it will be not only a canopy under which to rest tired legs but itself an experience that will enlarge the spirits of townspeople and visitors.
“St. Johnsbury has a new landmark,” Herold wrote.
Although ultimately not a winner, the design was entered into an awards competition with the American Institute of Architects.
For her next St. Johnsbury project, Taryn didn’t travel far from the path pavilion.
Through a tunnel and a right-hand turn at Depot Square Park is the four-story New Avenue building that originally served as the New Avenue Hotel. After serving decades as the Depot Square Apartments the prominent structure had fallen into disrepair and was doing the town nor the tenants no great favors.
Energy and investment led to the purchase of the building and its current multi-million dollar rehabilitation. Duncan Wisniewski was hired as project architect and Taryn was tasked with the job.
She said being able to help rehabilitate such a prominent and historical structure downtown is rewarding.
“It’s very exciting to think about coming home and working on a project of this importance in town,” Taryn said.
She makes a trip to the building every Tuesday to check on progress and help address any concerns or questions. The work requires adherence to the historical nature of the building, which presents its challenges, she said.
“There’s unknown conditions you discover,” she said. “There’s been a huge amount of structural work to do.” Breadloaf Construction is on target to complete the project this September, she said. It will feature affordable housing apartments on three upper floors and commercial space on the ground floor.
“We studied all the postcards and we’re trying to restore it to its former glory,” she said.
Taryn said she the importance of the New Avenue rehabilitation to local housing needs is significant.
“I think it’s really important that it’s continuing to be affordable housing. That is really one of the largest guiding principles: everyone deserves a safe, happy place to live.”
There’s also an essential economic component, she said. “The project does have a responsibility anchoring downtown. I think it could attract some good business and start to fill those storefronts.”
Another significant upgrade through the rehab is in energy efficiency, Taryn said. Fossil fuel use will be limited with the addition of heat pumps, and a central air system will eliminate the need for window air conditioners.
“I think it’s coming together really well,” she said. “It’s not an easy project but everybody’s working so hard.”
She said she works on some aspect of the New Avenue project most every day. At the same time she and another architect at the company are in the process of taking ownership of Duncan Wisniewski Architecture. “The founders are trying to figure out how to retire,” she said.
And while Taryn’s top mark in the local athletics record book was lost after 14 years, the marks she’s making in town architecturally are likely to live on for many years to come.