City again delays action on future of Vaughn-Hansen Memorial Chapel
By Adam Hocking
MARSHFIELD — The future of a historical structure in Marshfield remains in doubt after the city’s board of public works again deferred taking action regarding the Vaughn-Hansen Memorial Chapel on Monday.
The board of public works had also deferred action regarding the chapel in October of 2015. The building has sustained water damage and needs a number of other updates.
The chapel, located in Hillside Cemetery, was originally dedicated in 1977. Hosting graveside services had been a function of the chapel in the past.
Advocates for improving the structure have asked that the city contribute $80,000 toward restoration efforts, according to city documents. Those pushing for restoration of the chapel hope that city money would be matched by donations from the Vaughn and Hansen families, residents of Marshfield, and the Marshfield Rotary organization.
Delaying the city’s action is the fact that a firm use for the chapel, once restored, is unclear. If the city approved funds for the project, part of the money raised would go into a fund for future maintenance of the chapel once restored, said City Administrator Steve Barg.
A number of options have been considered by the city, including tearing the structure down, restoring it, removing the roof and making it an open-air facility, or converting it into a columbarium to house urns.
Myron Silberman, one of the original architects of the chapel, said in October of last year that the Vaughn and Hansen families had set up a fund with $25,000 to pay for maintenance of the structure, but the city has not been able to find records indicating that the money was ever actually received. Also in October of last year, Hillside Cemetery Coordinator Mike Baltus said the chapel had not been significantly utilized over the past 15 years.
The city will look to have Silberman address the concerns over the use of the building at the July 18 board of public works meeting. Alderman Mike Feirer expressed concern about agreeing to contribute funds to the restoration efforts until a definite plan for the structure’s use is agreed upon.
“This whole presentation doesn’t say what they want to do with the building. You can fix this building. You can put a furnace in it, and you can heat it, but you still have to maintain it,” Feirer said. “We always should have a plan of what that building’s going to be used for.”
“We can repair it, but if it’s not going to be used for something, … why bother? It’s going to be hard to collect donations for that as well,” board member Chris Jockheck added.
Barg indicated that the chapel could be used as a memorial space or simply a place for reflection.
“I hesitate to speak for Mr. Silberman, … but I know one of the things that he said to me more than once is he believes it’s architecturally significant,” Barg said. “Between he and the Vaughn, Hansen families, they believe that the building itself is significant apart from the use.”
Board member Ed Wagner was upset that tearing the building down has been a consideration.
“We’re overlooking the fact that 30-some odd years ago, this building was given to the city as a gift, and it was given as a gift with, apparently, a $25,000 payment to the city, which we’ve not been able to find,” Wagner said. “The fact that this building is virtually unusable now is because guess who didn’t maintain it: us. We took that building in good faith, and we did say that we would maintain it. Whether or not the $25,000 was there or not, we did say that we would maintain it. We have not. We quit maintaining it.”
Wagner also noted that the city has recently used a number of public-private partnerships to secure funding for projects, for example the Everett Roehl Marshfield Public Library and the JP Adler Family Kodiak Bear Exhibit.
“The message we give to the donors is, ‘Well, you give us a gift, and we may or may not maintain it. And once we’re tired of it, we’ll just quit maintaining it, and then we’ll tear it down.’ That’s a crappy, crappy message, and I really don’t want to give that message to anybody else.”
“So tearing it down, shame on you. I really don’t think that’s a good idea,” Wagner added.