One person attends hearing on courthouse tower

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Catherine W. Idzerda
Tuesday, August 5, 2014

JANESVILLE--Only one person spoke at the public hearing on the fate of the Rock County Courthouse tower.

The hearing, which began at 8 a.m. Tuesday, was part of the regular meeting of the county's general services committee.

The tower, a 42.3-foot rectangle on the building's west side, is designed to be reminiscent of the tower on one of the county's earlier courthouses.

Because the tower's design leaves it open to the elements, it is more affected by freeze-thaw cycles. The bricks on the side have begun to loosen and fall apart. The problem is serious enough that the area has been roped off.

At a July 10 county board meeting, General Services Manager Rob Leu told supervisors that it would cost between $264,000 and $286,000 to remove the tower.

Fixing the tower would cost between $451,000 and $990,000, Leu said.

Jackie Wood, a downtown business owner who is active in historic preservation, was the only speaker at Tuesday's hearing.

 “I've talked to several people about the tower,” Wood said. “Number one, they really don't care what happens to it, and there are others that don't like the way it looks.”

Wood said the courthouse could maintain its modern look without the tower.

“Sometimes when a design doesn't work, you have to find the best solutions using taxpayer dollars.”

It is not possible to get money back from the architect or the builder, Leu said.

Madison architect Kenton Peters designed the courthouse, as well as the building that houses BMO Harris Bank in downtown Janesville.

Wood noted that architects aren't always concerned with the practical.

Frank Lloyd Wright's design for the S.C. Johnson Wax family, for example, resulted in a leak that dripped directly on to the owner's chair, Wood said.

When told of the problem, Wright suggested they move the chair.

The BMO Harris Bank building that Peters designed has had challenges, too.

The large, long skylight in the roof made the tellers' stations so warm that special screens had to be designed to block some of the sunlight, Wood said.

People still have a chance to share their opinions with the committee and the full county board.

Leu expects the issue to be discussed at an Aug. 19 meeting, when the committee might ask him to prepare a resolution on the tower to forward to the county board.

That resolution would return to the committee at its September meeting and then go to the full county board.

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