Empty buildings offer opportunties, challenges

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Catherine W. Idzerda
Thursday, September 19, 2013

JANESVILLE—Think of it as a sturdy leftover.

As residents settle into the new Rock Haven Nursing Home, their old, four-story home is getting ready for its first season in mothballs.

When everything is wrapped up, the old nursing home will join the ranks of the county's empty spaces that include a floor and a half in the human services building.  It will also become one of several buildings or spaces that are well built but inefficient for today's workplace and would be expensive to bring up to code.

General Services Manager Rob Leu said county officials haven't begun to consider what to do with the old Rock Haven, and those discussions could be a long way off.

Here's what he does know: Both Rock Haven and the health care center building, which is next door, are solidly built and contain features such as terrazzo floors.

The old Rock Haven was built in 1964, and had a 248 bed-capacity.   

The five-story former health care center next door opened in 1972 with a 282-bed capacity.  People with chronic mental illness, dementia and people with developmental disabilities were served in the building.

In the late 1970s and '80s, more people with developmental disabilities and mental health issues began to live in the community, and the health care center building emptied. Rock Haven downsized.

Now, all of the fourth floor of the health care center is empty, as well as half of another floor.

“Right now, we don't need the space,” Leu said.

Parts of the health care center have been turned into office space, but it's not terribly efficient.

Every office has a bathroom, the electrical work had to be upgraded to accommodate modern technology, the building isn't insulated to modern standards, and the windows need to be replaced.

Rock Haven faces even more challenges.  The stairwells are no longer up to code, there's no air conditioning and the building doesn't have a sprinkler system. 

The task of upgrading the electrical work would be expensive and complicated.

This fall, staff will mothball the old Rock Haven.

The water will be drained from all of the plumbing, the locks have been changed, and the heat will be turned “way down,” Leu said.

It's unknown how much it will cost per year to keep the building in mothballs, Leu said.

The heat has to be kept on to prevent the paint from peeling and other damage, but the heating system is old and uneven.

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