Preliminary approval granted for revised museum plans

By Matt Masterson - Freeman Staff

Dec. 3, 2015

WAUKESHA - A decades-old building at the Waukesha County Museum is getting a stay of execution.

The Waukesha Landmarks Commission voted Wednesday to rescind a previously approved Certificate of Appropriateness that authorized the demolition of the 1938 connector building at the museum.

The commission then issued a second vote - this time in favor of a new COA giving conditional approval to revised plans with the intent of folding the building into other development as a portion of the site is turned into high-end apartments.

Gene Guskowski, an architect with AG Architecture, said as the design process wore on, he and developer Alan Huelsman came to realize that tearing down a building just to replace it with another wasn’t making sense.

The connector building was initially slated to come down to allow for more parking space below the museum. Instead, they worked together to create parking spaces around the building’s current structure.

“The bones of the 1938 building, most of the 1938 building, make a lot of sense and we can make an adaptive reuse,” Guskowski said Wednesday.

The project will go before the city’s Plan Commission next week. But Landmarks Commissioner Andrea Nemecek, who made the motion to approve the COA Wednesday, made sure changes to jail windows, the museum’s south entry way, or the building’s glass or stone exterior would come back before this commission for further approval.

As part of the project proposal, the Waukesha County Museum would sell the property at 101 W. Main St. to Huelsman’s development company, Historic Prairieview Limited.

The museum would need to consolidate into the first two floors of the original Waukesha County Courthouse, and the third floor will be renovated into a banquet and wedding facility featuring a fully restored 1893 courtroom.

Some community members, including Mary Emery, president of Waukesha Preservation Alliance, opposed demolishing the 1938 connector building, citing its historical significance.

On Wednesday, she expressed her delight with the new proposal.

“This is wonderful that the ‘38 connector is being kept,” she said. “I like the design overall ... It’s very nice. I am very pleased.”

A piece of the building that used to serve as a jail - but not the original 1885 jail, which will be turned into apartments - will be razed and replaced by new construction.

One floor of the project has also been eliminated in the new proposal, making it a four-level building. The total number of units has also been reduced from 41 to 32.

“I think,” Guskowski said, “it’s a win-win for the community, the museum itself and the potential residents that would help enliven downtown Waukesha.”