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Kristi Forslund, Green Bay

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Former Episcopal Church to become event center


Emergency room physician Geoff Gorres was tired of living out of a suitcase.

With a job that requires him to move around from one community to another and after about a year of being based in Ashland, he decided it was the community he wanted to call home.

"I've been working here long enough to know that it was a good place to work — good people — and I was kind of tiring of putting all my stuff in the back of a car and hauling it into the hotel or wherever," he said.

Gorres started looking around to find a more permanent place to live, but nothing in the Ashland area suited his quirky taste.

"There are houses everywhere for sale, but I was looking for something a bit different," he said. "Maybe a warehouse or airplane hanger."

What he found was something very out of the ordinary — a church for sale at a very reasonable price.

The former Saint Andrew's Episcopal Church building at the corner of Third Street and Chapple Avenue had been standing vacant since last year, when a shrinking congregation and rising costs forced church members to seek a more affordable place to worship in Bayfield.

Gorres saw the real estate listing for the church and was intrigued. He and his friend Dr. John White, head of the

Memorial Medical Center emergency department, went over to take a look.

"We were both struck by the beauty of the building and scratched our heads and talked about it," Gorres said. "When we walked through it, one of the things that was quite evident was just that the majesty of the construction, the timber framing and brick is so striking."

And then there was the price: $125,000, or about the cost of a nice house in a good neighborhood.

It didn't take long for the two men to decide there was a future for the elegant structure. But one does not go out and willy-nilly buy a church.

One of the purposes for purchasing the structure was to find a home Gorres could use in Ashland. The church's basement spaces provided some easily convertible space for a dormitory-style apartments with a common area and cooking facilities, while the upstairs could be used for events such as weddings, receptions, graduations, business meetings and comedy or music shows.

"The sky is the limit. It's really what people can imagine doing is what we want to provide. I don't think Ashland really has anything like that," White said.

The two decided to become partners in the project, purchased the structure and set about doing some renovation work, landscaping and remodeling, which was taking place this week.

One of the first things Gorres and White undertook was in the church's social hall, which Gorres called "The Guild Hall" in recognition of the medieval feel of the space. He said it was apparent that the area had been remodeled years ago, with the aim of lowering the cost of heating the space. That was done with a drop ceiling, which hid the original and beautiful timber-framed, vaulted ceiling.

"It was kind of clear to John and I that if we were able to restore it back to its original state, it would be a very impressive space," he said.

The church has a storied past. Designed by John Sutcliffe, a 19th century architect famed for his work for the Episcopal Church, the structure was completed in 1900 and replaced a church built in 1880 and which subsequently burned.

The two recognize their responsibilities to more than a century of parishioners who were members of St. Andrew's church and made it a part of the historical fabric of Ashland.

"They put a lot of years, decades into this church, so we don't want to change anything on the outside, and as little as possible on the inside to respect that history," said White

Some changes will be needed in order to transform it into an event venue. One is the construction of handicapped-accessible restrooms and a new handicapped entry into the guild hall from the parking lot, which will allow the demolition of an decrepit wooden handicapped ramp in the front. That change will make access to the hall easier for those with disabilities and restore the front to its historic look.

"We are also hoping to build a large deck out back," White said.

Despite the work needed to make the building over for a new purpose, Gorres said the building is remarkably sound.

"Obviously it was well cared for," he said.

The operation will be ready to go later this summer.

"We've already had one event here, about three weeks ago" White said. "We had a couple of colleagues from the hospital who retired," said White. "We told them it wasn't done yet, but they wanted to have it here. We had about 80 people here and it was well received."

Excel solar garden grows on Ashland's south side

Xcel Energy's Ashland solar garden is sprouting up quickly and will soon be feeding energy to customers — and give them a bit of a break on their bills to boot if they subscribe to the company's community solar program.

The 1-megawatt solar garden has been growing over the past two weeks along Highway 13 on the southern edge of the city.

Contractor OneEnergy Renewables first erected the framework to hold the project's 3,000 3-foot by 6-foot panels. Those arrived Wednesday morning, and crews intended to finish stacking them two-high along long rows of metal framing stretched out on a 7-acre lot within two days.

Once online, hopefully by the end of the summer, the project will join Xcel's two other solar gardens

harvesting energy from the sun to produce electricity in Eau Claire and the La Crosse area.

The solar energy program represents Xcel's commitment to renewable energy and provides it with another source of power, said Michael Be Beau, community service manager.

By subscribing to the program, customers can say at least some of their energy comes from a renewable source without having to install their own solar power systems, BeBeau said. They also can skip upkeep and maintenance headaches.

The program is open to residential and business customers. After paying a one-time fee, subscribers receive a credit on their electricity bills based on the solar garden's energy production.

Subscription amounts run from $320 for 200 watts up to the maximum of 400 kilowatts at $1,600 per kilowatt. Subscribers will not receive a refund if they end the contract early, but if they move out of Xcel's service area before the end of the 25-year-term contract, they can receive a prorated refund.

Subscriptions also can be donated to a non-profit in case the customer needs to cancel their participation.

For more information call 800-824-1688 or email

Ashland students attack invasives
Garlic mustard removed from Bay City Creek




Ashland High School junior Morgan Mierotto knew invasive plant species were an issue in Chequamegon Bay, but it was not until she became part of a student weed-eradication expedition that she fully understood the scope of the program.

Mierotto is a member of the school's Worldly Aware Teens Encouraging Resource Sustainability environmental group. Members of the organization were at work targeting a highly aggressive invasive plant, garlic mustard.

Garlic mustard is originally from Europe, western and central Asia and northwestern Africa. Over the course of a two-year lifespan, each plant can produce hundreds of seeds. It was originally brought into the United States in the 1800s by European settlers as a foodstuff, valued for its garlickymustard flavor, and as a medicinal herb. It quickly went wild and has been crowding out native species ever since.

"Just seeing how many small ones that would be releasing seeds next year was really shocking," Meierotto said.

The group, in the space of just two hours, managed to pick 10 large garbage bags full of garlic mustard, along with miscellaneous tires and other junk unthinkingly tossed into the Bay City Creek ravine near Ninth Avenue East.

Meierotto said the experience opened her eyes.

"It gave us hands-on experience of what we can do to make the world a better place. I think that's very important; it's something everyone should be doing," she said.

Another student who took part in the eradication effort was freshman Calvin Rowley, a member of the Future Farmers of America. He took part because of the damage garlic mustard can do.

"It can take over and consume the nutrients that could be used by other plants," he said. "When it replants, it

continues to cause destruction and continues to take over. We need to do something about it."

Ashland Parks and Recreation Director Sara Hudson is likewise eager to do something about it. She helped to set up the weed-pulling event with Ramona Shackleford of the Northwoods Cooperative Weed Management Area and Burke the group's advisor, teacher Gretchen Burke.

"It's a never-ending battle. There are more species of concern that keep popping up," Hudson said.

Hudson said garlic mustard in particular has recently made an appearance and the city was trying to get it under control in areas like Bay City Creek because of its tendency to become chokingly dominant, and the fact that it is virtually useless for wildlife and birds. However, because of budget and staff constraints, there is only so much the city can do. That's why volunteer efforts are so important.

"They spent a little over two hours down in the ravine and we were surprised with how much they pulled out. It's great to see," Hudson said.

Burke said the group has been involved in a number of activities including peace studies and recycling, in addition to invasive species.

"To me it is important for the kids to make a difference in their community that is positive, she said.

Burke noted that the weed is actually edible and last year the group made a pesto sauce out of it.

"It was good; it was garlicky so if you put it on pasta it tasted like regular pesto. Everybody liked it. They ate it up," she said.

Aside from the good done by the direct removal of the garlic mustard, there was a larger value in their efforts, Shackleford said.

"I think it makes them aware of how they can help in the community," she said. "Garlic mustard is a real problem that spreads rapidly in the community; we really need a lot of help with it. When we have these hand-pulling events, it is a method that has been shown to help control it."

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