APPLETON, Wis. (WFRV) – News that Lawrence University plans to demolish one of its historic homes isn’t sitting well with some of its neighbors.
Via a public information request, Local Five News found out that on May 4 the city of Appleton received an application from Lawrence University to demolish a historic home they own at 128 N. Union St. The city is still reviewing the demolition permit after Wisconsin Historical Society officials completed a review of the property and accepted the university’s demolition request.
According to the Wisconsin Historical Society, the 2.5-story Queen Anne-style home was built in 1894. University officials Local Five News spoke to said they didn’t know when the university officially bought the home, but said it’s currently vacant. It’s been listed on the state and national list of historic places since 2002.
News that the university plans to demolish the home has upset many people who live nearby.
“In general that passion has come out but that isn’t a bad thing, it’s a good thing it lets Lawrence know that people care about this neighborhood,” said Israel Del Toro who is an Appleton alderman.
Del Toro was among a group of about two dozen people at a community listening session at the university on Thursday night.
Andrew Bellows also attended the meeting. He lives just a few houses away from the house in question and told Local Five News after the meeting that he’s very disappointed he’s just finding out about all of this now.
Several people at the meeting told Local Five News that they found out about what was happening with the house from a flyer that the university sent out just a few days ago.
“I wish it (the meeting) was a bit more productive,” said Bellows. “I think there’s more of a commitment from Lawrence to have more of these community conversations but I do wish they were more transparent about their willingness to invite the community into the conversations.”
Bellows said he’s also worried about the value of his property moving forward.
“Whatever they decide to do with the property after the fact whether it’s a parking garage or a dormitory has a direct impact on my home and my livelihood and just the general fabric of the city park historic district and what these hundred-year-old homes really mean (to the community),” said Bellows.
At the community listening session, people had an opportunity to ask Lawrence University President Laurie Carter questions for about 30 minutes.
Many of Carter’s answers were vague. She said she didn’t know for sure what would be built when the house is gone, saying it would depend on how they put together their master plan for future facility construction.
She also wouldn’t say why the university no longer maintains the home, which has visible signs of wear and tear on the outside, saying that she wouldn’t comment on decisions made by previous Lawrence University presidents.
Carter said that the university is committed to being a good neighbor and working together with community members.
“Is this the best situation, probably not it might be too little too late,” said Del Toro. “But going forward I think there’s an opportunity for Lawrence to know that they want to be good neighbors and that’s going to include lots of transparency and lots of discussions with our neighborhood.”
Lawrence University officials said they hired an independent contractor who said the home was no longer safe. City of Appleton officials told Local Five News that the city does not have any active orders for code violations at this property and did not initiate any action regarding the demolition of 128 N. Union St.
The flyer the University sent out said that the city’s inspection supervisor had confirmed the need to take down the house. Carter said she didn’t know why this information was on the flyer.
The Appleton official that Local Five News spoke to said the city’s role is to issue the demolition permit and ensure that the demolition is done safely and in accordance with state and local regulations.
Lawrence is a private university and because of that, they have complete control of what they do with properties they own.
A University official said a demolition would likely occur in mid-July. According to the demolition permit application, the cost of the project is $10,000.