Community provides input on Lake View Hill Park project | Environment
North side neighbors hope to preserve both the human and ecological history of a former nurse’s dormitory slated for demolition in Lake View Hill Park and brainstormed plans for the site’s future at a design workshop Saturday morning.
The slated-to-be demolished dormitory borders the current Dane County Human Services Building, a former tuberculosis sanatorium, in the 40-plus acre park. According to a June Dane County Parks Division statement, the county contracted with Madison-based design firm Urban Assets in 2012 to help determine the park’s future.
“We’re here to design something new, something that can celebrate and embrace the history of this site as well as the setting,” Urban Assets founding principal and certified urban planner Melissa Huggins said. “We have a lot of elements that need to be taken into account in order to create something that can enhance the experience of the park.
Built in 1929-30, the sanatorium consolidated patients from other areas of the county. Its patients slept and exercised outside as a way of combating tuberculosis, the accepted medical protocol at the time. The neighboring nurse’s dormitory, built, in 1934 served the 105-bed facility.
The discovery and use of penicillin to treat tuberculosis caused the building to close as a sanitarium in 1966, and Dane County Human Services has occupied it since. The site, along with the nurse’s dormitory and other buildings, was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1993.
Darren Marsh, Dane County Parks director, said the county budgeted money for the demolition last year and needs to figure out how it will use the site after demolition.
“That’s important because the demolition process can actually lead us into what that other use is going to be,” Marsh said. “I would hope that it would move forward fairly rapidly after we come to a good understanding of how it’s going to be used for the future.”
Community members, during the workshop, sought to salvage the site’s historical aspects. They, however, disagreed on returning the area to its natural state or maintaining structural elements of the building to make it a gathering place.
Jon Becker, event attendee, said if the decision to demolish the building is not reconsidered, the county should consider ecological restoration. He noted any historical plaque that could be placed should commemorate the park as the likely location where naturalist John Muir looked back as he left Madison and later wrote that it was where he left the “the Wisconsin University for the University of the Wilderness.”
He said the landscape should be returned to its historic landscape prior to the first land surveys in 1836, which would be prairie and would also restore Muir’s view and solve some of the issues other community member raised about the area such as storm water drainage. A handout he passed out at the workshop stressed the park as a site with regional, national and international significance.
During the drafting session, attendee Nelson Eisner suggested that the county demolish the top of the building but retaining the first floor of the site and make it into a community gathering place, which could also include a museum. He said the top of that floor could also be turned into a platform to for a community gathering space.
Some community members raised questions concerning how the decision was made to tear down the dormitory and whether the county involved community members enough in the decision-making process. They also claimed the county may not have explored all the options that they could have concerning the site’s re-use. Maria Powell, who lives next to the park, said many of the people she has spoken with were surprised to learn the county plans to demolish the facility.
“The decision-making has been a really small group of people, mostly neighbors and a couple of people with Parks and Dane County Human Services making all these decisions,” Powell said. “And a big critique that some people have, and I share, is that it has not opened up to a broader set of people for deciding what happens with that building and this property in general.”
Powell said she supported as much ecological restoration of the area to its original state as possible.
Huggins said the design team will take the information provided at the planning as well as information provided through focus groups and integrate it into their design process.
She said they hope to present a few of their ideas at the Sept. 10 meeting of Friends of Lake View Hill Park and submit the plans to the county’s planning commission mid-September, which would likely mean a commission planning meeting mid-November.