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Local
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131-year-old Janesville house moved, now being restored

Across from the Janesville Central Fire Station, the street-facing front of an old Victorian home is bright and inviting. The house at 340 Milton Ave., otherwise sandwiched by scaffolding, is seeing signs of restoration years in the making.

From the newly stained brown front door, to the red and green pillars, surrounded by creamy yellow siding, the 131-year-old house is getting a new sheen not seen for some time.

But the house hasn’t long been seen on the east side of the street, either. As part of a plan to make space for the fire station on the west side of Milton Avenue, the city acquired several homes to be either moved or demolished, including this one.

When Fred Harmon caught wind of this in 2015, Harmon knew he had to scoop it up—almost literally.

Harmon, a retiree and resident of Janesville with a knack for restoring old homes, purchased the two-story Second Empire house distinguished by its Mansard roof.

Gazette file photo 

In this photo from April 2015, workers from Alliant Energy deactivate power lines as the house is moved on Milton Avenue across from its former location.

“It was kind of the jewel,” Harmon said of the house, whose address at the time was 327 Milton Ave.

Built in 1870, the residence originally belonged to local businessman John C. Jenkins, who lived there until 1875. The Zeininger family owned the house, as well as several other properties on the block, until the late 1930s. It was then sold to the Boos family.

Harold and Myrtle Boos moved into the residence in the early ’40s. Their daughter, 92-year-old Mary Ann Venable, was in fourth grade at the time.

“Our house was always open,” Venable told The Gazette, remembering her family hosting sleepovers with her friends. “It was just a big house where we could have a lot of company.”

(More of Venable’s memories of the house will appear Monday in The Gazette).

Submitted Photo 

The John C. Jenkins House was built in 1870 at 327 Milton Ave. The house was moved to 340 Milton Ave in 2015.

Rescuing the house from demolition benefited both Harmon and Janesville as it preserved a piece of Janesville history and provided Harmon with a new project.

“I just didn’t want to see the house get torn down,” he said.

In addition to buying the house, Harmon had to acquire property on which the house could be relocated. He was adamant about finding a spot nearby to avoid compromising the structure and limiting the cost of moving the structure.

“When you move a house, you can’t move it far unless you’ve got big, deep pockets,” he said.

Fortunately, Harmon found a contractor to move the house a week before it was scheduled for demolition. But it took another three days to secure the property across the street.

“It was a scramble,” he said.

Anthony Wahl 

Fred Harmon, of Janesville, gives tour of the home he’s slowly been restoring after it was hauled southeast across the street in 2015 to make way for Janesville’s Central Fire Station. Neighbors and drivers passing by have noticed a visible change as the home’s front side has recently been painted and a vintage metal fence, brick pathway and light post have been added to the front yard.

After the sale was finalized came the Herculean task to remove the house from its original foundation and onto the new property. Badger Construction jacked the house up and placed it onto a flatbed house-moving truck. Aided by the power company, power lines were lifted to allow the truck to pass underneath and place the house in the backyard of Harmon’s new property.

Over the next two years, Harmon had a new foundation and a basement built for the house. When the materials were finished curing, contractors raised the house again and, with structure moving skates, slid the building on top of the foundation.

In the years since, Harmon has taken a gradual approach to restoring the structure. He recently has been sprucing up the face of the property, erecting a wrought-iron gate around the lawn, lining the fence with stones from the original foundation and installing a light pole among other aesthetic alterations.

Harmon left much of the interior charm untouched—keeping the fireplace intact and preserving fixtures, such as chandeliers and even the front doorbell. To keep with the 19th-century aesthetic, Harmon moved in furnishings from the era, including an old pump organ and a shelf sitting atop the mantlepiece.

Anthony Wahl 

Fred Harmon of Janesville gives tour of the home he has slowly been restoring after it was hauled southeast across the street in 2015 to make way for Janesville’s Central Fire Station.

“I tell my wife all that furniture came with the house,” he said with a chuckle.

At first glance, the progress made on the house might appear to be minimal, but Harmon has his hands full with this and other restoration projects.

“People in the city think I ought to be a little faster than I am on fixing it up,” he said.

Harmon said he eventually intends to sell the house to, as he put it, “the right buyer.” He said his goal is to restore the house to a degree that it will be cherished by whomever buys it.

“Somebody will really appreciate it,” he said.

Anthony Wahl 

Fred Harmon, of Janesville, stands atop the staircase while giving a tour of the two-story historic house he’s slowly been restoring after it was hauled southeast across the street in 2015 to make way for Janesville’s Central Fire Station.


Government
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Milton School District tries to block lawsuit payments to former board member

Brian Kvapil

MILTON

The Milton School District has tried to get its insurance company to stop paying the legal expenses of a former school board member who is being sued, but the district has run into a roadblock.

The district this week released correspondence between the district’s legal counsel and EMC Insurance in which the district asks EMC to stop the payments.

An EMC attorney replied that her interpretation of state law was that EMC must cover former board member Brian Kvapil’s expenses, at least in part, because Kvapil was acting on behalf of the school district when he made statements in 2019.

Those statements became the focus of a lawsuit filed this February by former school district director of administrative operations Jerry Schuetz.

Schuetz’s suit claims Kvapil’s statements caused him pain and distress, including one suggesting that taking a stipend was “stealing.”

Kvapil also said Schuetz’s $10,000 stipend was made without board approval, possibly violating the law or board policy.

In public statements and on a Facebook page, Kvapil questioned the integrity of those involved in the payment of several stipends as part of his opposition to a proposed school spending referendum. Kvapil said at a school board meeting that he did not trust the board or administration to use the money wisely.

In a five-page letter to EMC dated July 27, school district counsel Shana Lewis made a legal argument that Kvapil was not acting on behalf of the district when he made the statements and when he released a payroll report detailing the stipends.

As reported earlier, an investigation by an outside attorney determined Kvapil had violated the public records law by releasing documents from an emergency school board meeting about stipends paid to Schuetz, then-superintendent Tim Schigur and an IT worker.

The same investigation revealed that then-board president Tom Westrick violated board policy by approving Schigur’s $10,500 stipend. The investigator said Schuetz’s stipend did not violate district policy or state law.

Kvapil later retracted statements about Schuetz’s stipend.

“By releasing the report, Mr. Kvapil engaged in conduct that was not authorized and that was not for the district’s benefit,” Lewis wrote. “After releasing the report, Mr. Kvapil continued to place his interests above those of the district and board by refusing to comply with the advice of Mr. Schigur and me by ignoring board policies and practices.”

Lewis’ letter quotes Kvapil and Kvapil’s attorney that Kvapil was acting as a private citizen.

In a four-page reply dated Aug. 27, EMC attorney Patty Miller wrote that Kvapil’s statements and actions are within his legally defined “scope of employment” with the district, even if they were prohibited or not authorized.

Wisconsin law requires EMC to “liberally” resolve the question of whether the city insurer covers Kvapil in favor of Kvapil, Miller wrote.

Miller did leave a window open on the question:

“However, because the potential exists that not all of the statements made were in discharge of Kvapil’s duties as a board member, EMC has been providing, and will continue to provide, coverage to Kvapil under a reservation of rights,” Miller wrote.

Lewis’ letter describes how the district gave two severance payments totaling $75,000 each as part of a severance agreement when Schuetz resigned from the district in 2019.

The second $75,000 payment was for “compensatory damages and attorneys’ fees.”

In signing the severance agreement, Schuetz agreed not to sue the district, school board or board members in their official capacities, Lewis wrote, and Schuetz abided by that agreement by suing Kvapil “in his personal capacity” and not as a board member.

“To hold otherwise would circumvent the terms of Mr. Schuetz’s agreement and saddle the taxpayers with a cost beyond the agreed-upon terms,” Lewis concluded.

Superintendent Rich Dahman responded to a request for comment Thursday through spokeswoman Kari Klebba.

Asked if the district was trying to save money, Klebba said, “I think it’s important to emphasize the taxpayers’ money.”

Klebba said the district would have to pay deductibles as specified in the liability insurance contract and that it’s possible the district’s premium payments could rise as a result of the lawsuit.

Kvapil didn’t run for re-election in April. Contacted by The Gazette on Thursday, Kvapil said that on advice of his attorney, he couldn’t comment on the latest news.

The lawsuit is ongoing in Rock County Court.


Craig graduate and athlete and longtime Parker High School football coach John Koebler, who will join the Janesville Sports Hall of Fame this year.


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