Welcome and greetings Niagara Escarpment fans! We have a long-awaited progress update.
You may have noticed the pathetically sad-looking building on our property at the top of the Ellison Bay hill is gone. Yep...gone. The building, after being thoroughly inspected by our general contractor (Amber Beard) in late 2019, was pronounced deficient or dangerous (for public use) in multiple areas, including structural code violations. Amber’s research revealed that correcting those issues would result in costs that were comparable or higher than starting over. So, our Board reluctantly decided to start over.
Because the structure was legally nonconforming, removal required rebuilding plans/commencement within one year of removal. Our Board began navigating a series of zoning challenges involving many meetings, additionally hampered by Covid-19, in order to rebuild the structure once it was finally removed. As the pandemic eased, and life approached a tentative semblance of normalcy, the Fire Department began, once again, using the building for training purposes. In late February of 2022, GEO-DC successfully completed all of our zoning challenges. We are no longer under the strict 1-year deadline for construction. The Sister Bay/Liberty Grove Fire Department was able to proceed in late May with the final real-time training of a successful and spectacular controlled burn.
We will now be able to use our cleaned-up property for staging hikes and other educational events, as we plan a capital campaign for our Niagara Escarpment Discovery Center.
The Greater Escarpment Organization of Door County (GEO-DC) began quietly in the spring of 2012 as the necessary groundwork commenced. We achieved 501(c) 3 status in September of 2014. In April of 2016, with the invaluable help of Dr. Roger Kuhns, we mapped a Master Plan to sustainably guide us in the 5/10/20 year planning process. During the intervening years we have sponsored lectures at northern Door municipalities, educational facilities and historical organizations. We facilitated lecture/hikes on the Escarpment as part of a local fundraiser for the Door County Land Trust and are in the process of partnering with local kayak and Segway tours for special events which highlight the Escarpment. Four active members of our organization are repeat presenters at the Bruce Peninsula “Sources of Knowledge” conference each May. In June of 2017 we purchased the property at 11876 Hwy. 42, with its breathtaking view of the waters of Green Bay meeting the western bluffs of the Escarpment. Consistent with our philosophy of sustainability and re-use of existing structures and materials, the building will become the home of the Niagara Escarpment Discovery Center. We spent much of the summer and fall donating “sweat equity” repairing, renovating and cleaning the structure for its intended use.
Re-thinking the GEO-DC’s Discovery Center Results in Community Benefits
Ellison Bay, WI – January 27 2020. You may have noticed quite a bit of recent activity at 11876 Hwy. 42 in Ellison Bay, the Greater Escarpment Organization of Door County (GEO-DC) Discovery Center site. Most of the cars, trucks and activity revolves around materials salvage being conducted by Habitat for Humanity.
When GEO-DC purchased the property in 2017, we knew the building was more than 50 years old and had a number of “issues”; mold, a leaky roof, winterization needs, and the need for a great deal of cleaning. However, we also knew the location, with its superlative view of the Escarpment and the waters of Green Bay, would greatly support our educational mission. With our hearts leaning decidedly towards sustainability and reuse of an existing structure, we went to work. Our active team donated many hours of sweat-equity, donning respirators and gloves, as well as wielding crowbars, hammers and shovels (oh my!) to deal with the mold. Jim Creed fixed the portion of the roof that leaked.
We began to plan in earnest over the past two years for the significant remodeling project required for public, ADA-accessible, use of the structure and our future exhibits. What we did not know is that further examination of the structure would eventually reveal some devastating news about worse than anticipated not-to-code construction and, worst of all, asbestos. Amber Beard, our general contractor, conducted a detailed inventory of what would be needed to remediate these issues, as well as estimated costs of same. The dollar amount rapidly rose to the point where our Board began to compare demolition/new construction with remediation/remodeling, exploring the pros and cons of each option.
Ultimately, the Board decided in favor of new construction. Not only would the materials be new and code-compliant, but new construction would allow us to reposition the structure more efficiently on the small lot, allowing for more parking, and even better views of the Escarpment and the waters of Green Bay. It would also allow us to build in stages, to accommodate needs and growth. The final “plus” is that we would be designing a building to fit our planned exhibits, instead of shoehorning our exhibits into an existing space.
Not wanting the building to simply go to waste, we contacted Sister Bay/Liberty Grove Fire Chief Chris Hecht, and asked if the department could use the building for firefighting training. We were greeted with an enthusiastic “yes!” (Our sincere thanks to the Firefighters’ Association for a much-appreciated donation towards the asbestos removal required prior to training). Because we are still committed to being as sustainable as practicable, we also reached out to Habitat for Humanity to see if they could repurpose anything from the building prior to the Fire Department use. Habitat/Restore has been removing paneling, flooring, doors, windows, lighting fixtures, shelving, toilet, sink…even the EXIT sign…all to be repurposed elsewhere in the community.
Once Habitat is finished, the Fire Department will take over the scene for training purposes. Chris Hecht notes, “The Sister Bay & Liberty Grove Fire Department has been very fortunate to have received the donation of the Geo-DC building that is to be removed. The Fire Department has had limited accessibility to surplus structures to use for training and this building will provide a unique opportunity for hands-on training. Members of the Department will be using the building for real world training including live fire training that will provide hands-on experience in flow path control, ventilation, a variety of search and rescue techniques and fire suppression. The Fire Department hopes to use the building from late this winter through late spring depending on the weather conditions and the overall need for the complete removal of the building.“
GEO-DC will continue its mission of education with scheduled lectures and events for the 2020 season, while planning for our capital campaign building fund. Watch our website and Facebook for upcoming details.
Spring, 2020 - Because of Covid 19 our plans to raze the building have been put on hold while our fire department focuses on helping during the pandemic. The building is empty and is waiting for the fire department to do a control burn for training efforts. After that we will begin to replace our Discovery Center.
Covid 19 strikes and everything goes into a standstill. Our plans for a control burn and other fire department training sessions on the building are stopped so that the volunteers are free to assist people in the community with their needs. All the events we had scheduled had to be cancelled for the safety of everyone. We are going to investigate some virtual lectures. Please stay tuned for information on that.