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Port Historical Society Again Fights for Fire Engine House

Former home of the Port Washington Senior Center is up for sale, and the historical society is making a last-chance grab at maintaining city ownership of the building.

Time is running out, but they aren't giving up.

Members and supporters of the Port Washington Historical Society attended the Port Common Council meeting on Tuesday night to again ask city officials to reconsider the sale of the historic fire engine house building, of the . A petition is also circulating to stop the sale.

Despite all this, the building remains on the market and has already been seen by interested parties, City Administrator Mark Grams said. Potential buyers have until July 27 to submit a bid.

The historical society first began talking with Port officials about the issue on June 1, 2010, when discussion arose about possibly leasing the building from the city, according to the society's president Jackie Oleson. The society leases the from the city for $1 each year, and .

But costs associated with leasing and upkeep of the historical characteristics of the building left the society unable to make an official commitment.

Until now.

"We feel it has taken us to this point in time to meet the requests of the city," Oleson said. "I do ask that you take a look at what we’ve been proposing, over the years we have lost numerous historic buildings in Port Washington."

The commitment comes a bit too late for the city, which had already made plans in the budget for the money earned on the the building's sale.

"If we don’t sell (it) that means we got about a $230,000 hole in the budget we’ve got to fix," Grams said. "That money is going to be used for the rent on the new senior center."

Port resident Nancy Haacke has been working with the historical society to help do something to save the fire engine house, and is highly involved in the circulation of the petition to stop the sale.

"I strongly feel they shouldn’t jeapordize the firehouse," Haacke said, citing the town of Ephraim in Door County, where many of its historical buildings have been lost from town ownership one-by-one.

"(Ephraim) started like us, fighting for buildings — and I’ve seen so many destroyed because it wasn’t treasured," she said.

Haacke has been going door-to-door collecting signatures, and said the support from the community has been overwhelming.

"Every door we go to, people do not want it sold," she said. "There’s just no question — they just don’t want it turned over to a private business."

The sale of the building is contingent upon the buyer maintaining the buildings' historical values, Grams said.

Haacke said she is hoping for a couple thousand signatures, though help to circulate the petition is really what is needed to fuel the fire. The petition will have to be turned in the same day as the bids — July 27.

Port Washington Historical Society's Plan

The Port Washington Historical Society submitted a proposal to members of the Common Council on Tuesday explaining their plan for operating and maintaining the fire engine house.

If granted a $1-per-year lease from the city, the society plans to run a museum in the building, which was placed on both the Wisconsin and National historic registries in 2009.

The society said it is ready to provide funds for a number of initial expenses, including:

  • $9,500 to replace a boiler
  • $5,000 to repair and repaint roof edges
  • Repaint the windows
  • $1,000 to regrade the northwest corner of the lot to alleviate a water leak into the stairway
  • $7,500 to pay for yearly utility expenses

The society also plans to eventually have a full-time director to run the museum, but in the meantime has a society member willing to volunteer some time to the role. They hope to attract students during the cold-weather season, and tourists during the summer — further making more people aware about the downtown Port Washington area, considering its proximity to the fire engine house.

The historical society said it could raise funds to continue the upkeep of the museum and building through:

  • an annual fundraiser;
  • annual appeals designated to specific projects;
  • an increase in dedicated funds from the society to the specific building;
  • foundation grants;
  • funds from the American Association for State and Local History;
  • and funds from the Wisconsin State Historical Society.

In the meantime, aldermen have the proposal to review and the city awaits bids from interested parties, while Oleson hopes the issue appears on the Aug. 2 agenda of the Common Council with good news for the society.

Geri Zehren July 20, 2011 at 04:14 PM
Thanks for the exposure on the continued effort to save the FEH. The city does have other properties it could sell to cover the cost of the three years of rent, $230,000.00 ($6,400 per month). Thanks to those people who support the PWHS efforts. Please call, e-mail, or write your aldermen. Geri Zehren

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