Efforts to save historic chapel pick up steam

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Marcia Nelesen
Wednesday, February 5, 2014

JANESVILLE--The Friends of Oak Hill Chapel are not stopping at just raising money to save the historic structure.

Members hope the Janesville City Council will allow them to take over the restoration.

The group will appear before the council Monday.

City staff last year had recommended the century-old chapel, built in the Gothic Revival style, be demolished after an architect said it would take more than $300,000 to upgrade the building. Making minimal repairs was estimated at $36,153. Demolition was estimated at about $31,000.

Staff said it could not justify the cost because the building was used so little.

The city assumed ownership of the cemetery and its chapel in 2008.

Residents stepped forward to convince the council to save the building and offer their help.

The council gave the group until this month to come back with a plan and proof it could raise the money.

The group has banked $33,000.

The Friends of Oak Hill Chapel board has grown to 18 people who meet every Monday. Sixty volunteers—some of them are skilled craftspeople—are ready to donate labor and supplies, said Richard Snyder said, co-president of the friends group.

The friends can renovate the chapel more cheaply than the city, which would be required to let bids, Snyder said.

Group members met with City Manager Mark Freitag earlier this week. Freitag said he would propose that the council allow him to work directly with the friends in their efforts to renovate the building.

Freitag, who is new to the city, said he took his family recently to view the chapel.

“It's a beautiful facility, something the community can take pride in,” Freitag said. “It  (would be) a shame to demolish it.

“I'm certainly encouraged by what I've seen accomplished by the group so far,” Freitag said.

The money raised shows him the initiative is backed by community support, he said.

“I think that's good news for the group, for the chapel and for the city,” he said.

The building needs a new roof and tuck-pointing. Snyder has offered to donate some of the cost to restore the stained glass windows. Snyder estimated it would cost $90,000 to restore the 43 windows and add storm windows.

The group also would like to add a bathroom, but it might be in a nearby maintenance building the city plans to build, Snyder said.

Members plan to remove carpeting, sand the hardwood floors and strip the wainscoting, which is made from local red birch.

The group has created gift items featuring the chapel and is looking for a venue to sell them because the group is not set up to handle taxes.

Many people who attended a previous open house never knew the chapel existed, Snyder said. They also expected to find it in worse condition than it is.

“The open houses have proved differently,” Snyder said.

This story was revised Feb. 6, 2014, to reflect the following correction:


The cost to demolish the Oak Hill Cemetery chapel was wrong in an earlier version of this story. The cost has been estimated at about $31,300.

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