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Architect hired to assess 116-year-old mausoleum

Thatís no grave-robber. Thatís Oxford Twp. Supervisor Bill Dunn examining the crumbling mausoleum in the township cemetery. Photo by C.J. Carnacchio. (click for larger version)
July 21, 2010 - Plans to repair a deteriorating piece of Oxford history are moving forward as the township board last week agreed to enter into a contract with a local architect.

Township officials voted 4-3 to hire the Lake Orion-based Stephen Auger and Associates Architects, Inc. for $6,290 to produce plans and specifications regarding the repairs needed to fix a 116-year-old mausoleum located in the township cemetery on the north side of W. Burdick St.

Services not included in the architect's contract will be billed at a rate of $85 per hour.

"It is a beautiful structure," said Supervisor Bill Dunn. "It should be saved."

A combination of old age and exposure to the elements caused the mausoleum's stone work to fall apart in several spots.

"You cannot leave it in disrepair the way it is," Dunn said. "Ice is getting in there. Water's getting in there Ė expanding (and) popping (stone). The top's falling in."

But some officials didn't understand why the township couldn't just hire a stone mason to make the necessary repairs instead of contracting with an architect to first assess the mausoleum's problems and it's structural soundness, then lay out a course of action.

"I personally don't think we should expend the monies on (an architect)," said Clerk Curtis Wright. "I would say that structure's sound enough to move forward with construction."

"I am not licensed to make that determination," retorted Treasurer Joe Ferrari.

Wright indicated the money the township's going to spend on an architect could probably fund 50 to 100 percent of the needed repairs.

Dunn indicated a professional evaluation of the structure, built in 1894, is needed for safety reasons.

"I'm afraid if we hire a mason to go out there and just put the stones back up, that the structure itself may collapse," Dunn said. "(The architect's) going to tell the mason exactly what repairs have to be done to make this a safe structure."

"I don't know many stone masons that are licensed by the state of Michigan as structural engineers," the supervisor noted.

Trustee Joe Bunting inquired as to whether or not there were any historical preservation grants available to pay for the work.

"There's nothing available," Wright said. "I tried everyone early on and there's nothing as far as grants or anything."

"I tried that in 1998 and there wasn't any funding for cemeteries," Dunn added. "I even went to Lansing."

The supervisor noted he does not believe the actual repairs will be expensive.

"I don't believe it's going to be that much money for a stone mason," Dunn said. "For the most part, the boulders that were there are still there. They fall off the building, they end up on the ground right there."

The money for the architect and repairs will come out of the township's cemetery maintenance fund, which contains approximately $140,771.

Wright noted the mausoleum, which has space for 15 bodies, is currently unoccupied, but the county health division probably wouldn't approve putting any corpses in there.

Based on his visual inspection, the clerk believes the stone platforms on which the coffins would rest are too old and not strong enough to support the weight. He's also not sure if the space would meet modern burial requirements.

None of the officials indicated a willingness to demolish the historic structure.

"I don't think any of us would be in favor of tearing that down," said Trustee Sue Bellairs.

"The historical society would shoot us," Dunn added.

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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