The state intends to build a huge, $46.7 million archive preservation facility for the Wisconsin Historical Society and the Wisconsin Veterans Museum by the Yahara River on the Near East Side.

The Department of Administration has proposed demolishing its aging, sprawling Central Services Facility at 202 S. Thornton Ave. and building a four-story, 188,733-square-foot facility on the 5.1-acre site next to the river, city bike paths and railroad tracks.

The drab gray central services building, built between 1895 and 1924, is used for mail handling and printing services and gained some renown when state recall petitions were counted there in early 2012.

The state Building Commission unanimously approved the demolition and new archive facility on Wednesday afternoon.

“It’s a great project,” said Sen. Fred Risser, D-Madison, a member of both the Building Commission and board of curators at the Historical Society. “It upgrades the neighborhood. More importantly, it provides very, very needed storage space for the Historical Society and Veterans Museum.”

Mayor Paul Soglin applauded the decision, saying it’s appropriate to locate the archives on the Isthmus and that the specific site is close to public transportation and convenient for archivists and others who will work there.

The state has been working closely with the city on the conceptual design of the building and to make sure it fits with the city’s long-range plans for the Yahara River corridor, Soglin said.

The project will go through a city review process and require Plan Commission approval, said Steve Cover, director of Planning, Community and Economic Development.

Ald. Marsha Rummel, 2nd District, and officers of the Marquette Neighborhood Association could not be reached.

The state has been trying to find a new location for its archives for several years because current storage spaces are too small and lack needed infrastructure and support services, a DOA report says. The spaces have leaky pipes and lack appropriate temperature and humidity controls and security, it says.

The archives are now stored at the museums or the Historical Society building on the UW-Madison campus, Risser said.

“We don’t have a place for Gov. (Tommy) Thompson’s stuff right now,” he said. “We’ve had to stop collecting some material. We’re just out of space.”

The storage deficiencies have caused damage to existing collections, inhibited acquisitions and restricted the size of objects that can be added, the DOA report says, warning additional damages are “probable” unless environmental conditions are improved.

The combined value of the Historical Society and Veterans Museum materials is about

$1.2 billion, the report says.

The new facility will let the state move forward with a new combined Historical and Veterans Museum on Capitol Square, Risser said. The preservation facility is needed to store items while the current museums close and the new structure is built, he said.

The proposed facility would include a four-story archive preservation wing, two-story processing wing, a Native American suite and central office space.

There would also be a green buffer with Indian ceremonial grounds on frontage facing the river, staff and visitor parking, and natural landscaping on the South Dickinson Street side of the property that could be used for future expansion.

The initial building would be farther from the East Wilson Street bike path and have a smaller footprint than the existing structure, preliminary plans say.

The building design will follow sustainable principles and state energy standards. “This is going to be state of the art,” Risser said. “It’s not just a building. It’s going to be a unique building.”

“We like the overall concept,” Cover said. “We’re pleased they’re not turning their back on the Yahara River but are engaging it.”

In November 2010, the Building Commission approved a storage facility on state-owned land at 402 Troy Drive near Troy Gardens on Madison’s North Side, but the state backed off amid protests from residents and Ald. Anita Weier, 18th District.

The new site was chosen for its proximity to the state museums and university, the opportunity to change the current use, access to public transportation and compliance with the city zoning code, the DOA report says.

The state is hoping to start demolition this fall, begin construction in May 2014 and complete the facility in August 2016.

Dean Mosiman covers Madison city government for the Wisconsin State Journal.

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(5) comments

Troy Thiel

This is very clearly NOT the highest and best use of the site...State could do a lot better, and a more thought out project would help Madison and the State's economic picture...koshka's right..a warehouse can go anywhere..meanwhile there's some excellent adaptive reuse here....and other good potentials.


Even though the current buildings aren't much to look at, it does seem shortsighted to take this awesome area of the isthmus and make it storage instead of living and a natural boardwalk along the Yahara from Tenney through Jenny.


This site is next to the Yahara River, popular bike path, growing entertainment district and 2 miles from the Capital square. Seems a waste to build a new warehouse rather than more homes. A warehouse could go anywhere.


The area is zoned industrial. There are a lot of business, warehouses, supply houses etc right there. And an active rail corridor.


Wasn't this one of the pieces of property that interested Terence Wall? I seem to remember mention of Thornton Ave.

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