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Leaky arts center underperforms

Sean Ryan
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The rain soaking through the walls of the Washington Island performing arts center last August forced the choir and audience to abandon the show before the night’s closing number, “From Heaven on High.”

State building inspectors forced the Wilson and Carol Trueblood Performing Arts Center Inc. to abandon its six-year-old building shortly after that abbreviated performance.

Since then, the center’s owners, project contractors and engineers have searched for the cause of the building’s leaks and structural flaws, said James Morris, the center’s second vice president. The project team also is trying to decide who should pay for the repair work, he said.

“That’s always the issue, isn’t it?” Morris said. “What do I say? Do we feel it is our responsibility to pay for it?

Absolutely not. It’s one of those issues where everybody is pointing their finger at everybody else.”

VJS Construction Services Inc., the construction manager on the center project, and project designer Frederick Phillips & Associates Inc., Chicago, submitted plans to the state to correct the building’s problems, said Chris Suave, project manager for Pewaukee-based VJS. The plan is to wrap a new facade around the building to fix the leaking, he said.

Still, Suave said, VJS, Phillips & Associates and other members of the project team have not agreed on the cause of the building’s problems.

“That’s still to be determined,” he said, “It’s a work in progress.”

Morris said the building started leaking soon after it opened in 2004, and water seeped through the walls whenever storms passed through. He said he remembers seeing water coming down the walls the night the building closed before the community choir could sing.

Morris said the community loses more faith in the center’s future every day it remains closed, and town residents are unlikely to open their wallets to pay for repairs if insurance companies or contractors refuse to cover the bill, he said.

“If this thing does not get settled, there will be no doubt in my mind that this building will be permanently closed,” he said. “I can tell you that because we can’t afford it.”

The 19th annual Washington Island Music Festival will go on in August, but not in the performing arts center. State inspectors have ruled the building unsafe.

Stephen Colburn, the festival’s artistic director and principal oboist in the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, said he was on stage when the thunderstorm hit last year. But that wasn’t the last show he played in the Washington Island center.

The choir and audience returned the next morning for that final song, Colburn said.

“These are volunteers,” he said. “They are lovely people, community people, and they spent a lot of time to sing with the professional musicians, and I know it would be very upsetting to them if they didn’t get to sing.”

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