An expensive demolition, an even more expensive fix: Officials hear courthouse tower options

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Catherine W. Idzerda
Friday, July 11, 2014

JANESVILLE—Rock County General Services Manager Rob Leu once said, “No one has a tower quite like ours.”

On Thursday, Leu and a trio of engineers told county board supervisors the decorative tower on the Court Street side of the courthouse has to be demolished or repaired.

Demolition costs start at $264,000.

Repair costs range from $451,000 to nearly $1 million, depending on how officials want the tower to look when it's finished.

The problem is spall, a common occurrence in brick buildings, Leu explained in a previous interview.  Moisture gets into the bricks, usually from behind, and the freeze-thaw cycle results in expansion and contraction that weakens bricks.

The courthouse tower is empty at the center, and has no roof. The outside is brick, and the inside is concrete block.

In the winter, one side of the wall might be warmed by sun while the other side freezes in the shade, exacerbating the freeze-thaw problem.

In 2011, county officials noticed bricks near the top of the tower were starting to flake and come loose. The area was roped off, and a nearby entrance to the courthouse was closed.

Temporary repairs were made, and masonry engineer Lynn Lauersdorf was asked to assess the situation. Specialists from Structural Research, the Middleton-based company that worked on the spires at Holy Hill, were called in.

On Thursday, engineers from Structural Research laid out the options:

— Demolishing  the tower and replacing the roof at the base of the tower. Cost: $264,000 to 286,000.

— Replacing the brick and putting a roof on tower. Cost: $451,000 to $495,000.

— Replacing the brick and covering it with concrete masonry and metal. Cost: $737,000 to $814,000. This would result in a tower that looks the most like it does today, the engineers said.

— Replacing the tower walls with brick-faced precast concrete panels. Cost: $902,000 to $990,000.

— Installing a metal wall panel system and putting a roof over the tower. Cost: $627,000 to 693,000.

— Rebuilding the walls with a brick-faced rain screen wall and putting a roof on the tower: $649,000 to $715,000.

The last three options would drastically change the appearance of the tower.

Any options that put a roof on the tower could result in problems with rain, snow and ice coming off the tower. The roof also would become a roosting place for pigeons and other birds.

 The handful of supervisors who spoke said they were in favor of taking the tower down.

Supervisor Greg Addie said he saw it as an issue of “productive dollars.”  Dollars spent on architectual details weren't “productive” and given the financial constraints the county was under, fixing the tower didn't seem like a good choice.

A public hearing on the fate of the tower will be held the next general services committee meeting, said Supervisor Hank Brill.  The meeting is scheduled for 8 a.m. Tuesday, Aug. 5.


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