Courthouse tower will come down

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Catherine W. Idzerda
September 9, 2014

JANESVILLE--The tower will come down.

On Tuesday, Rock County's general services committee voted unanimously to dismantle the courthouse tower rather than pay between $451,000 and $990,000 to repair it.

The cost of taking the decorative structure off the building?

Between $246,000 and $286,000.

The trouble with the tower started in 2011, when the bricks on the upper part began spalling or breaking off in pieces.

The problem got bad enough that the area around the tower's base had to be roped off.

All brick buildings have problems with spalling, but the tower's design leaves it particularly vulnerable, said Rob Leu, county general services manager.

The tower, a 42.3-foot-high rectangle on the building's west side, has openings that allow light and air through.

The openings, along with the lack of a roof, mean the tower is more affected by freeze-thaw cycles. Moisture gets into the bricks, usually from behind, and the freeze-thaw cycle results in expansion and contraction that weakens bricks.

If the tower is coming apart already, why will it cost so much to take down?

“The tower has a big, steel superstructure,” Leu explained. “There are big I-beams in there, and it's going to be quite a cost to have that pulled out."

Leu anticipates that the demolition crew will have to build massive scaffolding around the structure and bring in big cranes to remove the pieces.

Work on the project will begin with paying for engineering and design services for removal. Because the amount of those services is expected to be less than $10,000, the request will not have to go to the full county board.

Approval for the the tower's removal won't have to go to the full county board, either.  Because the project will be part of the 2015 budget, however, board members could make the issue part of the budget debate this fall.

If the budget passes with the item intact, the project would be sent out for bids in early 2015, Leu said. 

The earliest work could start is early spring.

County board members and residents have asked if the county could get money back from the architect because the problem was caused by what some consider a design flaw.

“It isn't a design flaw,” Leu said.

Any decorative element of any building is subject to challenges, he said. Church steeples, murals such as the one on the front of The Gazette's Parker Drive building, and the elaborate cornices and pillars of Louis Sullivan buildings are all decorative elements that suffer in the weather and have to be repaired.

Architect Kenton Peters designed the tower to be reminiscent of the towers on the 1842 and 1871 courthouses. Peters said the building's curved roof, balconies and columns mimicked architectural features of homes in the Courthouse Hill neighborhood.

Leu said he tried to contact Peters about the tower but didn't hear back from him.

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