County Finance Committee split on future of former HHS building
Issues 4-3 vote to recommend tearing down historic building

By Matt Masterson - Freeman Staff

Sept. 18, 2014

  Work has begun to remove the temporary offices attached to the former Moor Mud Baths & Hotel, which was the Health and Human Services Building. The county is considering
demolishing the historic former hotel.

Charles Auer/Freeman Staff

WAUKESHA — Following a lengthy discussion, the Waukesha County Finance Committee issued a 4-3 advisory vote in favor of demolishing the former Health & Human Services building in Waukesha.

The contentious item was expected to be the source of debate among county supervisors after it was added to the county’s 2015-19 year capital projects plan last month.

The building, which was rendered obsolete for county use with the completion of the new HHS building last year, would cost $3.3 million to tear down — an item which is slated for year one of the capital plan.

Supervisors Jim Heinrich, Duane Paulson, Bill Zaborowski and Richard Morris voted in favor of tearing the building down. Steve Whittow, Eric Highum and Larry Nelson voted against.

The advisory vote is not a binding decision, but rather a recommendation of action to the full County Board.

The committee was largely split on the item, with some supervisors arguing that the site’s history needs to be preserved and other saying the space could be used for future projects. The building was formerly the site of the Moor Mud Baths & Hotel, which opened more than 100 years ago, and is on the national register of historic places.

“How many times are you going to repurpose it?” Paulson said. “It started out as Moor Mud Baths & Hotel, then it went to a seminary, then it went to an office building, now you are going to repurpose it again? The history is inside, and the history isn’t there anymore.”

Nelson and Whittow countered that there may be interest from developers in using the building, and that there should be no rush to tear it down.

Mary Emery, president of the Waukesha Preservation Alliance, added that over 700 signatures from across the county have been collected from residents who favor keeping the building standing. She said there are at least three developers who have expressed interest in the building.

Department of Public Works Director Allison Bussler said the county originally bought the property in 1972, but in the mid-1990s it clearly needed significant maintenance.

“We hired a consultant (who) said it needed mechanical upgrades — the space was inefficient, it was never meant to be office space,” she said. “At that time, the consultant recommended, and the board agreed, that we would invest $1.5 million and that would buy us 10-15 years.”

She said the building has already had a stay of execution of sorts, as possible uses were considered during the planning phase of the new HHS building.

If the project receives approval from the board, Bussler said, the next step would be Waukesha’s Landmarks Commission, before taking it to the Common Council.

The full County Board will vote on the entire capital projects plan during its October meeting.