Chapel gets six-month reprieve

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Marcia Nelesen
Tuesday, September 10, 2013

JANESVILLE—The Janesville City Council directed staff to throw a tarp over the historic Oakhill Chapel to get it through the winter, also delaying a decision on its future until February.

The 114-year-old chapel, located in the Oakhill Cemetery, got the additional six months of life after residents came forward, urging the council to save the building and offering to help with its repairs.

The building is a fine example of Gothic Revival church style, the only one of its age in the city, according to a city memo.

The majority of council members appeared to agree with President Kathy Voskuil’s comments when she said she was “really struggling with this.”

The building is not used, but she said she also understands the need to preserve.

But budgeting is based on priorities, “and we do have to make some tough decisions,” she said.

Staff recommends the building be demolished.

Five residents had earlier in the meeting either urged the council to save the building or offered to help restore the stained glass windows, repair the masonry or write grants fro its repair.

“It’s not always about the money,” Jackie Wood said. “Preservation should also be part of a community plan.”

Judy Adler, 320 Oakland Ave., said the building is potentially eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, and she said any decision to demolish it should not be taken lightly.

 “I urge the council to make the needed repairs, maintain the building and allow individuals to come forward for the full restoration of the building,” she said.

 “There are groups, individuals out there. They just have to be sought.”

The head of the Rock County Historical Society offered to partner with the city to hold at least four programs a year in the building.

But many of the council members reminded the audience members that resident made the same promise concerning a gas station across from City Hall.

The group did form to save that building.

In May 2012, City Manager Eric Levitt also championed the building and told the council it should consider looking at adaptive uses, even if those are 10 years in the future but with that goal always in mind.

No use has yet been found.

Councilman Douglas Marklein noted his wife wanted him to save the chapel.

But to what end? he asked. The city could restore it and buy some more time, but “what’s the end use?” he asked. “It is in a cemetery. (There’s) no parking.

“When we get to the bottom line, there’s just not a good use for this building.”

Architect Mick Gilbertson outlined some of the building’s issues. It is not connected to sewer, it has moisture damage and must be tuck pointed. There is no parking.

The stained glass windows, though are “very, very gorgeous.”

Gilbertson presented estimates ranging from about $379,000 for complete restoration, including adding a bathroom and making the structure accessible for handicapped people, to $84,000 to minimal repairs to about $31,000 to tear it down.

Voskuil noted the building has been used once a year since the city became the cemetery’s owners in 2008.

But Councilman Brian Fitzgerald said that is small wonder with the building’s moisture issues and no water hookup.

“In the condition it’s in, I’m surprised anybody’s rented it. Without any water, you couldn’t have any kind of function there.”

Both he and Councilman Sam Liebert seemed the most sympathetic to the building. Fitzgerald said the building’s restoration should be considered separately from any future reuse.

Council members said they would give interested community members six months to form a plan and come up with some cash.

 “We have limited resources, and we have a lot of other priorities at the present time,” Acting City Manager Jay Winzenz said.

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