Laptop City Hall: New report says Block 100 buildings are structurally sound

2012-02-13T14:00:00Z 2013-12-29T20:35:59Z Laptop City Hall: New report says Block 100 buildings are structurally soundSHAWN DOHERTY | The Capital Times |

Preservationists have submitted reports and bids from a Richland Center mason and building restoration expert that say that the masonry on two of the buildings that the Frautschi and Rowland family wants to demolish as part of their controversial plan to redevelop the 100 block of State Street can be fixed up for between $50,000 and $60,000 each.

Reports from Ex-Cell Building Restoration say that the brick and stone walls on both the Vallender building at 127-129 State Street, a triangular brick building built in 1867 by German immigrants Franz and Wilhelm Vallender, and the landmark Schubert building at 120 W. Mifflin St., are in basically sound shape and need mostly cosmetic work and some limited structural repairs, including tuck-pointing, some replacement of bricks, power washing and caulking.

The masons who put together the reports and bids said they plan to speak at a meeting of the Landmarks Commission Monday.

Pleasant Rowland and Jerry Frautschi want to spend $10 million to demolish five buildings, preserve the face of one and a sixth building that is a historic landmark, so that they can put up scrubbed-up versions of the old buildings, a modern tower and a private plaza across from the Overture Center (which Frautschi almost single-handedly financed). The couple says that the redevelopment will bring new life to a tired and unattractive portion of the block and that the buildings are in such rough shape that they need to be torn down.

The plan is wending through the city's approval process right now, and in a surprise move late last week, the development team for the project agreed to a suggestion to skip over today's scheduled meeting at Landmarks and present their case to the Urban Design Commission on Wednesday, where some people believe the project might have a friendlier reception. (At some point, however, the project would still need to come back before Landmarks, according to Chair Stuart Levitan.)

The masonry consultants have been hired and paid by Tom Link, a Madison preservationist and developer.

Gary Tipler, a preservationist and historian who has been working with Link, says that the goal was to present a fuller picture of what different options for the buildings are.

"So far we have not been given a full picture," Tipler says. "The only information that has been presented so far was to justify demolishing the buildings. But there is also information that could justify repairs to them."

Frautschi and Rowland hired an Illinois consultant who said the bricks on the Vallender building are so badly deteriorated that they are not worth saving. One of the masons hired by Link to give their opinions of the structures, however, said that the front of the Vallender building, on State Street, is in fair shape except for some salt damage. The rear of the building has visible deterioration due to what the report describes as drainage problems. However, the Ex-Cell Building Restoration masons determined that only around 15 percent of the bricks in this back wall are damaged enough to require complete replacement.

As for the Schubert building, one of the Richland Center masons described the brick on the front of that structure as being in "excellent" condition with the rear wall having some water and weather damage due to a broken gutter.

"I thought they were in pretty good shape," said Jim Hatfield, one of the masons who looked at the buildings. He says that he has been doing masonry since 1982 and that his family has been in the business since 1901. As for the foundations, he said, "I can't see where those buildings are moving." In short, he said, "From what I could see they had their issues with water damage and stuff but all in all they looked pretty sound."

Ex-Cell Building Restoration is based in Richland Center and has restored many historic buildings in the area, including Frank Lloyd Wright's Seth Peterson Cottage for the state of Wisconsin, nine buildings for Circus World Museum in Baraboo, courthouses in Marquette County and the city of Lancaster, the Bellevue Apartments (owned by Link) in Madison, and other stone and brick buildings in Mineral Point.

Asked for comment about the new report Monday, Block 100 Foundation project manager George Austin said they have not yet had a chance to see it and so cannot speak to it yet.

After this post initially went up, I learned that the two experts from Richland Center were told not to come to the Landmarks Commission meeting Monday and to present their findings at a later date.

I added a couple of phrases to the story Tuesday morning to clarify that the bids and reports pertain only to masonry work.

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