The Sturgeon Bay Historical Society Foundation (SBHSF) continues to leap hurdles along the course to saving the Potawatomi State Park observation tower.
The latest one came in the form of an engineer who finally received reciprocity from the state of Wisconsin and was able to officially stamp conceptual plans for an in-place repair of the tower.
“It means we have an engineer licensed to practice in the state,” said Dan Tingley by phone. He’s a senior engineer and wood technologist with Wood Research and Development (WRD) in Oregon. “When we designed the solutions, our engineers were not yet registered in the state, and they can’t stamp the drawing until they’re registered.”
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) closed the 75-foot tower to the public in 2017 because of safety concerns about wood decay. The SBHSF hired Tingley’s firm to assess the tower’s condition in January 2019, and Tingley concluded the structure could be fixed in place for less than $250,000.
Early last year, the DNR had a third-party engineering review done of WRD’s report. It concluded the report was sound, though it differed somewhat on the extent of the repairs needed. Demolition was not among the solutions that the third-party review recommended. Nevertheless, the DNR concluded early last year that ADA accessibility was required if it fixed the tower, and it could not achieve that goal. Therefore, it would demolish the tower.
Tingley has been skeptical about the DNR’s reasons for wanting to demolish the tower because he’s heard the same story before.
“When they don’t want to maintain an old structure, the first thing they start saying is you can’t get a wheelchair up it,” he said. “If every old structure would be torn down because it didn’t meet codes, we wouldn’t have a single old structure left in the country.”
Rep. Joel Kitchens (R-Sturgeon Bay) said he’d been told by DNR Commissioner Preston Cole that if WRA’s conceptual plans were stamped by the Wisconsin-licensed engineer, the DNR would treat that as new information. Kitchen has forwarded the freshly stamped plans to Cole.
Meanwhile, SBHSF found a company that could help the DNR achieve its goal of ADA accessibility. Hill Hiker, a Minneapolis-based company, manufactures and installs ADA-accessible solutions, including one for a timber tower in Maryland. SBHSF presented this information to the Wisconsin Council on Disabilities, which is under the umbrella of the Wisconsin Department of Health and Human Services and advises the state on issues pertaining to people with disabilities.
“That’s a decision the DNR will have to make internally,” said Christie Weber, SBHSF president. “It can’t hurt from our perspective. We’re a historical society; we want the historic structure saved. If we can accommodate ADA, what a wonderful thing that is.”
Kitchens said he wanted the DNR to focus on the merits of the repair to the historical tower, and not hinge on the lift system. He has requested a meeting with Cole to discuss the stamped plans toward that end and asked whether Weber could be a part of that meeting. If the DNR agrees to fix the tower, Kitchens said he thought it could still get done this year.
“I don’t think that money is going to be the drawback here,” he said.
Weber said if the tower’s footings are not repaired soon it could risk the whole structure.
“Every month that passes, we are eating up our opportunity [to repair the tower] by these delays,” Weber said.