Decision to tear down Baldwin church stirs debate

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BALDWIN, Wis. (KARE-11)-- A controversial campaign to save a 109-year-old church in western Wisconsin is getting heated.

Earlier this month, church leaders decided to tear down the building because repairs would cost too much, but others are on a mission to stop those plans.

"It's beautiful, it's an old landmark," said Jim Platson, part of group organizing to try to stop demolition of the building south of Baldwin, known in the community as the "red church."

Platson was among several demolition opponents who picketed outside Sunday services, following a 113 to 19 vote by members of Peach Lutheran to tear down the Red Church.

Peace Lutheran pastor John Hanson says it's just time. His congregation moved into a new church behind the red church five years ago. He says the red cement block church is a hazard because it's falling apart.

"It's a difficult thing, but we have to deal with it," Hanson said.

But not so fast say opponents.

"It's not like we're tearing down the neighborhood gas station, you know what I mean," said Platson. "It's one of kind really,"

Demolition opponents are asking for a month or two to organize and raise money. The group wants to move the church to a different site and restore it, as was done with another old church slated for demolition up the road.

A contractor who inspected the red church told them, it can be done.

Hanson believes it's a pipe dream. He said the needed masonry work alone could exceed $200,000.

Money better spent, he says, on projects like the church's work with AIDS orphans in Kenya.

"It's a sanctuary. It's a place of worship. And they are saying it's a landmark. I disagree," Hanson said.

Hanson said pieces of the church will be moved into the new worship space, but that's not enough to satisfy opponents.

"When it's gone it's gone, gone forever," said Chuck Serier, who was baptized in the red church 70 years ago.

Peace Lutheran had planned to start removing pews on Sunday, but delayed that work until an asbestos assessment is complete.

Hanson points out many of those opposing the teardown are not members of his church. Opponents argue that shouldn't matter because they consider the church a community landmark.

"We're praying. We're praying hard," said Malloy.

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