Age catching up to Oak Hill's chapel

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Marcia Nelesen
Sunday, May 26, 2013

— The historic chapel in Oak Hill Cemetery is one of the few in the city built in the Gothic Revival style and the only one of its age.

The crumbling structure is in need of repair, and Janesville City Council members will likely decide this year how much to spend.

Options range from $31,345 for demolition to $338,000 for a makeover.

The city, which assumed maintenance of the cemetery in 2008, recently commissioned an architectural report.

Interim City Manager Jay Winzenz said he isn't aware of any historic events that occurred in the chapel.

The chapel has been used five times since 2008.

"That doesn't mean that people don't have some sentimental attachment," Winzenz said. "It's an interesting building, but it's reached a point in its life where it needs fairly significant (attention)."

According to a book on Oak Hill Cemetery written by Janesville historian Maurice Montgomery, the chapel was built in 1900 at a cost of about $450.

It was built of Janesville quarry stone and trimmed with cut stone. The roof was slate.

The main room is laid out in the form of a Maltese cross with buttresses at each corner.

Seating capacity is 100. The interior was finished in birch with a hardwood floor.

The 1,700-square-foot basement is accessed from the exterior and is large enough to hold 300 caskets of the deceased in the winter.

The chapel has two 10-foot stained-glass windows and three smaller ones. Some were memorials. The window over the front entrance includes symbols of the Knights of Pythias.

Deterioration resulted from a lack of maintenance, according to the preliminary report. The issues are mostly connected to foundation movement and moisture.

Flashing should be replaced and downspouts or gutters added. The stained-glass windows are poorly sealed, and the masonry joints are deteriorating.

Options include:

-- Full renovation, including bringing the structure into accessibility compliance. Cost is $338,236, including a contingency of $77,869.

-- Minimal repairs so the chapel can continue to be used. It would include repairing the masonry exterior and the wooden window frames. Cost is $35,153, including a contingency of $7,031.

-- The same minimal repairs listed above plus a barrier-free entrance at the rear door. Cost is $41,326 with a contingency of $8,265.

-- Razing the chapel, salvaging items that may have market value and restoring the site to grass. Cost is $31,345 including a contingency of $6,269.

Alternative uses for the chapel could include meeting space, a museum, cemetery office space, or a contemporary chapel to meet current and future trends in funeral services and burial rites.

It is unlikely revenue generated from a new use would offset renovation or operational costs, according to the report.

Last updated: 10:32 am Tuesday, July 2, 2013

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