The Wakefield Memorial Building Foundation

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Marvin Suomi and the Wakefield Memorial Building Foundation have decided to build a new memorial building better suited to the City of Wakefield’s needs.  The cost of renovating the current Memorial Building is expected to reach as much as $20 million, but more importantly the engineering reports on the structure show that building is vulnerable in all respects and cannot support the necessary live loads for a new roof system.  Suomi discussed the issue with Mayor Richard Bolen, City Manager John Siira, and his advisory group of local residents in Wakefield this past July.  All parties were in support of a new building.  Bolen commented, "I think it's the right thing to do. Whatever Marvin is to do, the citizens of this Wakefield will be eternally indebted to him.  Going with a new building just sets a new chapter of progress and hope in this community."  The original building was created as a memorial to World War I soldiers and Suomi wants that aspect to remain.  He also wants to consider the new building as a memorial to veterans of all wars.  "We want to keep parts that are true to its origin as a war memorial," said Suomi.  These clearly will include the stained glass windows, which include several World War I tableaus. 

The next step in the process is not demolition of the building, but an all-out effort to create a pleasing design that will serve the community well.  Suomi commented that he would not demolish anything until he can clearly show the community what the replacement building would look like.  The replacement building will be a smaller and more compatible building for Wakefield.  It will also make a significant architectural statement.  Suomi said that when people drive around the lake he wants them to say, “'Wow, look at that building!”  Consultations with architects throughout the country have begun and Suomi plans to start interview process in the near future.  "We want to try to find a designer who could come up to Michigan and say, 'What would be significant architecture for Wakefield?'" said Suomi. "We want to say what the community said when they built the initial building, that is we're going to build the best building that can be built."  Suomi also wishes to continue to "bring the community in" to develop the structure.  This would involve a one or two day charette with local citizens and the design architect chosen to brainstorm ideas and answer the question, “what defines Wakefield?”  The first phase of the building would include city offices, the public library, and possibly a new swimming pool.  A smaller auditorium, perhaps a theater-in-the-round, is also being considered.  The change of direction also gives the city an opportunity to control day-to-day expenses.  Suomi commented that "even after renovation, the costs of operating the building has always been a concern.  Now we will be in a position to ensure that the city can afford the structure." 


John Myefski of Myefski Cook Architects has been selected as architect to design the new Wakefield Memorial Building.  His firm was selected as a result of a national search for recognized design architects.  Four firms with offices in the states of Washington, California, Minnesota, Illinois, and Pennsylvania were shortlisted and interviewed during the selection process.  It is expected that a design charette will be held in Wakefield during the spring. 


A design charette was held in Wakefield at the VFW hall to solicit input from the community on what the building should be and the role it should play in the daily life of Wakefield.  An enthusiastic crowd of about 100 people heard Suomi's vision for the building, but mainly responded to questions by Architect John Myefski.  Suomi announced that he had chosen Myefski because of his Upper Peninsula roots and has asked him to create "a signature piece of architecture in Gogebic County and the entire MidWest."  Suomi reiterated that restoration of the current building would be a wrong decision because not only is the building structurally unsound, the building is bigger than the the community of Wakefield today.  Myefski said the design of the building will be unveiled over the 4th of July weekend in Wakefield.  After  the design is unveiled plans will be made to remove the stained glass windows and raise the old building. 


John Myefski's design for the new Memorial Building was unveiled at the Wakefield-Marenisco All School Reunion.  In his design Myefski tried to make the building relate to Wakefield.  The Great Hall, the centerpiece of the building, resembles a miner's sunshine lamp and if the theatre portion of the building is added the outside would resemble a mine shaft.  Myefski commented "the design was such that we tried to base the building on influence from a mine.  The community asked for some kind of lantern, a building that would stand out and glow.  They wanted it to be visible across the lake and visible to people."  The Great Hall also relates to the original structure, which had a fireplace in the lobby.  Additionally, the building design is oriented to provide more view to the lake.  "The circular-shaped element reinforced that notion," said Myefski.  The rectangular portion of the design, located to the northeast, faces Sunday Lake.  The first level includes a 30x50 foot pool, sauna, men's and women's lockers, storage, and mechanical areas.  The first level includes the library with seating for adults and children, restrooms, and a multi-purpose room, all on the same level as the Great Hall.  The third level includes council chambers / multi-purpose room, a catering kitchen, city offices, vaults, a copy room, and more restrooms.  The original building (55,000 sq. ft.) served a much larger community and included a gymnasium, library, club rooms, a pool, and a theatre that seated 1,100.  The new building is somewhat smaller (30,000 sq. ft.) and will serve a much smaller community.

Click on the following link to see the new design:  WakefieldMemorialBuildingDesignSchematics.pptx


"O'Brien Stained Glass Co. (Rollingston, MN) removed what remains of the 12 stained glass windows in the theatre auditorium of the Memorial Building.  The windows will be sent to O'Brien's shop for restoration and will be incorporated in the new building in some way.  Among the windows were four "figural panels" depicting the military during World War I.  The remaining eight windows included patriotic and American Legion logos, but lack human figures.  "Realistically I'd say six to eight of them can be saved, mainly using "present glass." Any of the destroyed work can be replicated and new variations can be created as needed," O'Brien said.  


The State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) has said that the new Memorial Building project will have an adverse effect on the current building, which according to SHPO appears to meet the criteria for listing in the National Register of Historic Places.  It is SHPO's opinion that the new Memorial Building project meets the criteria of adverse effect because: the undertaking may alter, directly or indirectly, any of the characteristics of a historic property that qualify a property for inclusion in the National Register in a manner that would diminish the integrity of the property's location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling, or association.   It is also the opinion of SHPO that the proposed undertaking will have an adverse affect on the Wakefield City Hall which according to SHPO appears to meet the criteria for listing in the National Register of Historic Places as an example of Neoclassical civic architecture in a small town. 

In order to proceed with the project SHPO has asked for an additional structural engineering firm to do an analysis of the building besides the study performed by Hitch Engineering in 2006.  Additionally, SHPO has asked the Foundation make information regarding this finding available to the public and notify the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP)  to participate in consultation. 

Note: The 2006 Hitch study concluded at the time that it was not feasible to renovate the building due to the building's condition plus a large number of unknowns.  Hitch stated that based on their report it was their recommendation that the building be demolished and replaced with a new structure. 


Revised demolition bids were requested from interested firms including HM Demolition Companies, Angelo Luppino Inc., Superior Excavation, Gundlach Champion, and Smily's Excavating & Trucking


We have received the second structural engineering report as requested/required by the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO).  It was undertaken by UP Engineers and Architects and states the following:

“We can summarize our report by stating the Wakefield Memorial Building was a candidate for restoration 15 to 20 years ago.  However, over the years the elements have caused significant damage to the building including the collapse of portions of the roof and floors, flooding, and deterioration of the walls.  Today the Wakefield Memorial Building is structurally unsound and is not a candidate for restoration.  Only portions of the exterior walls and some scattered sections of floors and structural steel in the building are worth saving.  It is our opinion that the Wakefield Memorial Building be demolished.” 


After reviewing the second engineering study on the building by UP Engineers and Architects, SHPO has accepted the need for a new building.  However,  since we would like to receive federal funds for the project there are more challenges ahead.  The next step involves submitting the project to the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) in Washington D.C. for review.  Only after the ACHP consultation process is complete will SHPO execute a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA).


Per 36 CFR & 800.2(d) of the Section 106 process Federal Agency Officials or their delegated authorities are required to consult with the appropriate Indian tribe and/or Tribal Historic Preservation Officer (THPO).  This requires a reasonable and good faith effort be made to identify any Indian tribes or Native Hawaiian organizations that might attach religious and cultural significance to historic properties in the area of potential effects and invite them to be consulting parties per 36 CFR & 800.2(c). 

Letters from the City to thirteen tribe leaders in Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota have been sent out asking for any religious or cultural concerns that might tie them to the site. 


Since federal funds have been appropriated to the project, pursuant to 36 CFR §800.6(b)(1)(iv) of Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, the City of Wakefield is currently in the process of filing a final Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) which is being developed in consultation with the Michigan State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO).  The filing of the MOA and supporting documentation with the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) is required in order to complete the requirements of Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act.  This must be completed before demolition of the current building can occur.  The City of Wakefield is hoping to receive the draft MOA from SHPO as soon as possible. 



On June 3, 2010, the Wakefield City Council selected Northwoods Environmental Industries of Ontonagon, Michigan to demolish the Wakefield Memorial Building.  Demolition began on July 6, 2010 and was complete on August 28, 2010. The City of Wakefield received $147,000 in grant funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for the demolition work.  The City of Wakefield and the Wakefield Memorial Building Foundation are thankful for receiving these grant funds, which played a vital role in completing the demolition project and remains hopeful for future HUD grant funds.




After reviewing the credentials of 3 engineering firms, The Wakefield Memorial Building Foundation has engaged U.P. Engineers and Architects (UPEA) to perform an energy and cost analysis on the new community building design.  This will shed further light on expected energy consumption and operating costs. 




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Last updated: 11/19/10.
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