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City to decide fate of Southport Beach House

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The fate of the historic Southport Park Beach House went before the Kenosha Parks Commission.

The building, a registered Wisconsin and national landmark, was damaged in last year’s June 30 wind storm, and the question is whether it should be torn down, partially restored or completely restored — and for how much money.

Parks Superintendent Jeff Warnock said the building lost some shingles on its east side in the storm. However, that only added to deterioration due to weathering and moisture.

“The outside brick is wearing down,” Warnock said. “A temporary repair of the building was completed, but the city wanted to take a closer look at the building before making any more permanent moves.”

Erection of the brick structure began in 1936 and was completed in 1940 under the federal Works Project Administration. While no longer used as a beach house, it is available for rental for public and private events.

Extensive deterioration

Last year, the city obtained a grant to evaluate the building’s overall condition. With the analysis completed by Kevin Donohue, of architectural and design firm Engberg Anderson, the Parks Commission meeting was the next step.

“It’s up to the administration or aldermen to decide what to do,” Warnock said.

Donohue’s slide show, detailing the nature and extent of the deterioration, left no doubt that the damage is extensive.

At one point, he noted a leaning portion of brick wall that “is a threat to life and limb.”

However, Donohue said he didn’t foresee imminent collapse of the building. He did recommend fencing off portions where falling bricks are a problem and where partial collapse already has occurred.

Warnock said repairs affecting public safety already have been addressed, at least temporarily.

Potential funding questioned

Donohue estimated it likely would cost $1 million to $1.5 million or more to repair the building, and the project would like take two years.

“I think it behooves all of us that we put this out ... to the public and say, ‘What would you like to see us do?’ How will it be expensed moving forward?” Alderman David Bogdala said.

Alderman Michael Orth, chairman of the commission, said the project would fall under the city’s Capital Improvements Plan, although it remains to be seen whether that will mean redirecting money from other parks projects.

Passion for preservation

Neighborhood resident Liz Ruby asked Donohue to rate on a scale of one to 10 whether the building should be razed or fully restored.

“Probably a five,” Donohue said.

Orth asked about the possibilities for establishing restoration funding through a public-private partnership.

“How creative do you want to get?” Donohue asked in return.

Susan Andrea-Schlenker, also a neighborhood resident, told Donohue his “evaluation was chilling” in depicting the scale and scope of needed renovation.

But, Andrea-Schlenker added: “None of us want to see anything like (what has happened with the historic Elks Club) happen again. I can go out tomorrow and start raising funds. That’s how passionate I am about this.”

Beach House blues

Masonry problems

— Improper previous repairs.

— Softer replacement brick.

— Mortar harder than brick. Limits expansion in heat, moisture, leaving cracks.

— Mortar used in recent tuckpointing less permeable than original brick and mortar.

Other problems

— Water infiltration, leaks at roof edges and open joints.

— “Rust jacking” of iron materials (window lintels, electrical conduit).

— Structural inadequacies of alterations.

Source: Kevin Donohue, Engberg Anderson architects, Milwaukee.

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