Written by BILL SCHANEN IV
Wednesday, 26 November 2014 15:29
Officials hope $11 million reduction will be enough to win voter support in April
Architects who proposed a $61 million renovation of Port Washington High School now say they can cut that cost to $50 million while retaining key elements of the initial design in an attempt to win public support for an April referendum, Supt. Michael Weber told the Port Washington-Saukville School Board Building and Grounds Committee Monday.
Bray Architects initially proposed demolishing about 70% of the high school and rebuilding it to create a modern school with a stunning entryway as well as new gyms, a cafeteria and classrooms.
To pare the price, Weber said, some parts of the school initially slated for demolition would be retained but gutted. Design elements like the entryway and new facilities built on the hillsides on the south and west sides of the school would remain part of the proposal.
A work group comprised of administrators and school board members has expressed support for the revised Bray plan, Weber said.
“The work group is pleased with the proposal Bray is recommending,” he said.
Efforts to revise a sweeping proposal to renovate the high school and build additions onto the district’s three elementary schools was prompted by a survey last month that showed while a majority of district residents support school renovations, they are not willing to spend $61 million on the high school and $25 million on the elementary schools.
Survey responses also showed that residents would not support doing both the high school and elementary school renovations at the same time, an approach that would cost taxpayers an estimated $86 million. When asked to choose, most survey respondents indicated the high school should be the priority.
“It was fairly obvious from the survey that we need to take a look at another proposal to reduce the tax levy impact while still keeping the highest priority needs in the project,” Weber said.
What the survey did not tell school officials is how much taxpayers are willing to spend on the schools. It appears Bray and school officials are betting that amount will be around $50 million for the high school.
The fate of the elementary schools, however, remains uncertain.
Abnormally large and often unpredictable enrollments in particular grades, referred to as bubble classes, and additional requirements for programs like special education have created space issues at Lincoln and Dunwiddie elementary schools, administrators have said.
At Saukville Elementary School, the only open concept school in the district, security is the concern.
Bray Architects had proposed building regulation gyms and community rooms at Lincoln and Saukville Elementary schools. That would free existing space for additional classrooms and address the need for school facilities that can also be used by the public.
At Dunwiddie Elementary School, Bray proposed building an addition onto the front of the school that would provide a new secure entryway, additional classrooms and a community room. A new parking lot was also part of the proposal.
At a meeting earlier this month, Weber told the school board he believes the cost of renovating the elementary schools could be reduced from $25 million to between $10 million and $12 million by eliminating the gym addition at Saukville Elementary School, building a smaller addition onto the back of Dunwiddie Elementary School and foregoing the new parking lot.
At Saukville, Weber said, the renovations would focus on security by providing a new public entrance to the gym and partitions within the school building.
At Lincoln Elementary School, a new regulation gym would remain part of the plan because it would serve two purposes — provide a large gym that could also be used by nearby Thomas Jefferson Middle School, which needs additional indoor recreation space but cannot be easily renovated to provide it, and free existing space at Lincoln for additional classrooms.
The question administrators and board members continue to wrestle with is whether to draft a referendum that seeks funding for all school buildings at the same time or take a phased approach that would anticipate a series of referendums over a number of years.
What’s clear, Weber said, is Bray Architects does not believe the high school project can be divided into phases.
“They looked at a phased-in approach at the high school, but the problem is what happens if one phase of the project passes (in a referendum) but the other phases don’t?” Weber said.
The elementary school projects may be better suited to a phased approach, but Weber said that regardless of a referendum, the district intends to use money from its fund balance to make security improvements at Saukville Elementary School and create a new, secure entrance at Dunwiddie Elementary School.
“The new entrance at Lincoln cost a little more than $100,000,” Jim Froemming, director of business services, said. “In the grand scheme of fund balance, $100,000 is not that big of a deal.”
Bray Architects is scheduled next month to present a revised plan to the board, which intends to approve referendum questions in January.
“My goal is to have the high school look like a new school when we’re finished with it,” school board member Brian McCutcheon, chairman of the building and grounds committee, said. “I hope we can also handle some of our important needs at the elementary schools.
“I hope we can get it all done.”
Written by KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Wednesday, 19 November 2014 19:18
Anticipated decrease of $1 per $1,000 in valuation attributed to state aid hikes
Port Washington residents can expect to receive significantly smaller tax bills this year, City Administrator Mark Grams said Tuesday.
The overall tax rate should be about $1 less per $1,000 in assessed valuation, Grams told the Common Council.
The total tax levy — which includes funds not just for city operations but also the Port Washington-Saukville School District, Ozaukee County, technical school district and the state — will be $16 million, compared to $16.8 million last year, Grams said.
The tax rate needed to raise that levy will be $18.75 per $1,000, he said, $1.13 less than last year’s rate of $19.88.
Grams said he does not have the amount for the school tax credit, although he estimates it will be about the same as last year.
He also does not have the amounts for the lottery credit or first credit, but said those tend to remain stable.
“Overall, I would say we will see the tax rate go down about a buck per $1,000,” he said. “I think that’ll be the worst case. There’s no question people will see a reduction in the tax rate of at least $1.
“That’s good news. Everybody should be happy.”
The big reasons for the drop in the tax levy and rate, he said, are increased state aid for the Port-Saukville schools and the technical school district.
On Tuesday, the Port Common Council approved an $8.9 million budget for 2015 after a public hearing in which no one offered any comments on the spending plan.
The city’s tax levy of $4.9 million — also approved by aldermen — will require a tax rate of $5.79 per $1,000 assessed valuation, a decrease of two cents, Grams said.
The city’s recycling fee, which is a special assessment on the tax bill, will remain stable at $34, he said.
Sewer and water rates will also remain the same as last year, Grams said.
The city budget is largely a status quo spending plan, officials said, maintaining many city services while not offering many new initiatives.
Although officials are concerned about the state of the city’s roads, there are no major street projects planned in 2015. Instead, officials said, they will work to create a street repair plan and ways to finance it.
Another project not included in the 2015 spending plan is a study of the feasibility of a second fire station for the city.
Written by KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Wednesday, 12 November 2014 20:24
Downtown proposal that calls for lakefront development prompts residents to voice concerns at public hearing
Questions but few criticisms were offered by several dozen people attending a hearing on a redevelopment plan for downtown Port Washington last week before the document was accepted by the Common Council.
Most of the questions centered around plans for development near the lakefront, how they would affect the views of neighboring properties, draw business to the area and whether they would be sustainable.
“Have you looked at the rest of the neighborhood?” asked Pat Wilborn, 233 E. Pier St. “When you get something like that going, what happens to my house?”
Wilborn, who said he is pro-development, also asked whether the proposed uses would help attract residents and visitors to the lakefront throughout the year.
“Are you looking at development in view of reducing the death grip (of winter)?” he asked. “How are we going to bring people into Port in January and February?”
The plans for the lakefront, officials said, were developed to minimize the effect on views but they will alter some.
“It’s hard to protect views,” said Jason Wittek, a member of the city’s Community Development Authority, which commissioned the plan.
The plan, which calls for the parking lot on Washington Street just north of the north slip portion of the marina to be developed into a restaurant or brewpub, also calls for most of the east side of the building to be transparent, with large windows on several sides, officials noted.
Bringing in a business like a brewpub — suggested by many of the roughly 90 people who attended a brainstorming session for the redevelopment plan — will create a year-round destination that will help make the plan sustainable, officials said.
Other lakefront developments in the plan include creating a banquet hall with a community center at the former grocery store in the Port Harbor Center and a residential building to be constructed on land across Washington Street where Victor’s restaurant is currently located. The parking lot east of Victor’s would be shifted to the east, closing a portion of Lake Street.
A grand entrance to the marina would be created on Washington Street east of Harborview Lane, and this could be reconfigured to provide better pedestrian access to the harborwalk and the north breakwater as improvements are made there. The marina parking lot would also be reconfigured to accommodate the nearby developments as well as boat owners.
Mary Ann Voigt, a co-owner of the Port Harbor Center near the parking lot, asked where customers of the new business would park.
“The marina is only used so much of the time,” Ald. Mike Ehrlich, a member of the CDA, said. “Why not double up on its use?”
Don Voigt, another owner of the Harbor Center, asked if the city could bring more green space to the lakefront and downtown in general, saying it would help draw visitors.
There would be green space on the east and south sides of the proposed brew pub lot, Ehrlich said, and there are ways to incorporate additional green space in the reworked marina parking lot.
“The more green we can make our marina area, the better,” he said.
The plan also recommends two residential buildings, one facing Washington Street and the other facing Pier Street, be constructed on the Portabello Pizza property.
Another housing development could be created on the Jadair property south of Grand Avenue and west of South Milwaukee Street — a mid-rise building with as many as 50 apartments on the west end of the property and 15 townhouses on the south side of the land.
A public walking path could also be created on the wooded area on the far south side of the parcel, the plan states.
“This is a very interesting plan,” one man said. “I like the direction it’s going. But as a Pier Street resident, the one thing downtown is missing now is a basic grocery store.”
The plan does suggest that the property at the corner of South Wisconsin Street and Grand Avenue — across from City Hall — could be redeveloped and become home to a small market, officials noted.
“We’ve had three Realtors and they can’t find a grocery store willing to come in,” Voigt said.
But the increased residential development in the plan might be enough to spur interest by providing additional traffic for a market, officials said.
Aldermen were enthusiastic about the plan before they approved it after the public hearing.
Ald. Doug Biggs said he was initially concerned about the loss of public land around the marina.
“But much of the public space we’re talking about is concrete,” he said. “We’re talking about something that could be described as blighted and turning it into a place where people would gather.”
While not as visible as many of the other areas, the Jadair property proposals could also have a major impact on downtown, Ald. Paul Neumyer said.
“It would really complete the area,” he said.
Ald. Dan Becker said the plan creates a needed vision to guide development.
“I think it’s really exciting,” he said. “It’s good just to see what it could look like there.
“Obviously all these sites except for the parking lot are owned by other folks, but this could encourage some of these owners, show them this is what could be, and get them excited too.”
The plan also gives developers an idea of what the city wants and will approve for these areas, Mayor Tom Mlada said.
“It helps us lead this forward, and it also provides vision,” he said. “I think we’re going to get some serious interest.
“This isn’t something that will gather dust on a shelf. We’ll begin to act on it. There are some opportunities for us to move on this (plan) in the next year.”
Written by KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Wednesday, 05 November 2014 18:33
Briggs & Stratton’s equipment testing continues to irk residents who ask board to enforce ordinance
A group of neighbors tired of what they say is excessive noise coming from the Briggs & Stratton proving grounds on Highway LL beseeched the Port Washington Town Board on Monday to enforce the town’s noise ordinance.
It was a recurring debate that got testy as more than a dozen frustrated residents confronted the board over an issue they say has been recurring for years — one they said they need the town’s help in resolving.
“I don’t think any demand we’re making is unreasonable. We’re looking for a time frame for it to be solved, and we’ll keep coming until it’s handled,” Michael Howarth, 3251 Bay Hill Rd., told the board.
Officials, for their part, said they have been trying to work with the company to solve the problem and noted the complexity of dealing with noise issues.
Town Chairman Jim Melichar said he’s taken the residents’ complaints to company representatives at the proving grounds and they assured him they are working to solve the issue.
He said he was told a request to install acoustic fencing to muffle the sound is pending before corporate officials.
The town, Melichar said, has to work with the company as well as residents.
“What am I supposed to do? Shut them down?” Melichar asked. “I have a hard time asking a business to shut down.”
That’s not what they want either, residents said. They just want the noise to be controlled so they can enjoy their properties.
Although there have been some improvements — Briggs no longer tests its machinery at night, they said — there is much that needs to be done yet.
The problem, residents said, is that Briggs & Stratton will run mowers on pavement, unmanned, for 15 hours a day to test them, which creates a loud and annoying noise that spreads through the area.
“When they run those mowers over concrete, it gets pretty noisy,” one man told the board.
“We moved here for the quiet,” another man said. “To have factory noise when you’re sitting outside is pretty annoying.”
“I hear it when my windows are closed,” said Nancy Gauthier, 3283 Bay Hill Rd. “It’s not so much the volume as the pitch. It’s a whine that really drives you crazy.”
The noise isn’t a daily event, but it happens frequently, residents said.
“Their methods change all the time,” Al Gauthier said. “This summer it was quiet.”
Melichar said he’s spoken to workers at the site who say they are trying to get a noise-absorbing fence installed that should help the situation.
“That is going to be their first line of defense,” Melichar said.
The town has a noise ordinance, and the board needs to enforce it, said Rory Cattelan, 3274 Bay Hill Rd.
Cattelan, who sent the board an e-mail prior to the meeting outlining his concerns, noted that the ordinance calls for all noise to be muffled or controlled so it is not objectionable.
“There is no control or muffling at all,” he wrote. “No berm, no shelter, no vegetation, nothing. Why isn’t this ordinance enforced? Are we not an annoyed or disturbed neighborhood? What makes Briggs & Stratton exempt from abiding by these ordinances?”
Cattelan reiterated those concerns at the meeting, adding that he and his neighbors only want to enjoy their property.
“If the town does not pressure them to be good neighbors, then they have no incentive and we have no voice,” he wrote. “But we do have a vote.”
Town Supr. Mike Didier said part of the problem is that noise ordinances are difficult to enforce. The town can write a citation, but too often, it will be thrown out in court on a technicality, he said.
“That’s one reason we’re trying to work with them first,” he said.
Melichar said he went to the site after receiving Cattelan’s e-mail, and officials there told him they’re doing all they can.
“They’re working their way through corporate,” he said.
But the neighbors said they keep getting promises and not action from the firm, and they’re sick of it.
“Why can’t they just put hay bales around the fence?” asked Howarth. “It’s worth a shot. It’s got to be better than nothing.”
Melichar said this might be a solution, at least until the company installs acoustic fencing.
“I’ll talk to them tomorrow. I’ll take a semiload of straw there and donate it,” he said. “That should help.”
But Cattelan told the board it needs to keep the pressure on Briggs & Stratton to solve the problem.
“I hate coming to complain to you as much as you hate hearing from me, but without pressure, noting will happen,” he said. “Our best approach is to force them to be friendly neighbors.”