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Big potential for city infrastructure infusion

EagleHerald staff writer

MARINETTE—That smooth meander down State Street, rolling effortlessly over a railroad crossing that once sent jarring aftershocks through the car’s chassis and up the spine … That’s infrastructure.

The illuminated cones of lights that guide your way across the City of Marinette when day turns to night … That’s infrastructure.

Digital signals pulsing down a copper wire or riding a 5G carrier wave that allow people to endlessly scroll Facebook posts that harangue some pothole down the street … That’s infrastructure.

From where your water comes and to where your water goes …

All these examples and many more, when maintained, imbue a city like Marinette with the necessary groundwork and long-term cost savings for successful economic development and potential prosperity.

Tuesday night, during a special meeting of the Marinette Common Council, alderpersons approved a resolution that brings the city one step closer to a promising windfall of CARE Act stimulus funds aimed at fortifying Marinette’s infrastructure. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, enacted in March of 2020, provided the United States Economic Development Administration (EDA) with billions of dollars for economic development assistance programs dedicated to prevention, preparation and response to the coronavirus in communities like Marinette.

With Tuesday’s resolution, the city’s October application for an approximately $5 million Economic Development Administration (EDA) Public Works Infrastructure grant neared completion and the promise of approval (see EFFECTIVE ART OF GRANT APPLICATION). Add to that, the recent unofficial confirmation of an approximate $1 million Transportation Economic Assistance (TEA) Grant through the Wisconsin Department of Transportation and one sees that the burdens on taxpayers and the city stemming from significant infrastructure costs begin to diminish.

“Here’s the bigger gravity,” Marinette Steve Genisot said, “(Annually), Marinette does about a million dollars worth of road and infrastructure projects. We have an additional close to $1 million (unofficial TEA Grant confirmation) … which is money we did not have to take from the taxpayers or our general fund. And if we are successful with the (EDA grant) … that is $5 million on top of our normal $1 million … so it will be a busy year.”

Administered through the Public Works Infrastructure Economic Assistance program, which falls under the EDA, the grant represents Federal funds made available under the CARES Act enacted under the Trump administration last year. The EDA assists communities to develop strategies that improve their capacity for economic expansion. To qualify for such EDA recovery assistance grants, a municipality must demonstrate ways in which the pandemic’s economic impacts wrought financial hardships on the community and how respective infrastructure projects can address those impacts.

According to the grant, the city must provide a 20% match to the EDA funds, which equates to about $973,000. Primarily, Tuesday’s resolution provided additional grant application information to EDA oversight officials. Specifically, the resolution confirms, to the EDA, that by applying for $5 million EDA CARES Act grant, the city commits itself to the matching 20% cost.

However, thanks to the $1 million TEA grant as well as some creative forethought and insightful financial calculus on the part of engineering consultant firm Ayers Associates, who is assisting the city through the grant application, taxpayer money will not be footing the bill to meet that 20% match.

Instead, after Gov. Tony Evers officially announces the $1 million TEA Grant award, the city plans to combine federal (EDA grant) and state (TEA grant) dollars to put that $1 million toward the 20% match on the EDA grant.

While still unofficial, Genisot informed the EagleHerald that the city has received confirmation of the TEA Grant award, which should be announced by Evers in the near future.

EFFECTIVE ART OF GRANT APPLICATION

Tuesday night’s resolution regarding EDA grant application marked the fruition of an almost yearlong effort to analyze, research, compile and complete a mountain of complicated documentation involved.

“It takes a while to get those grants,” said Common Council President Dorothy Kowalski. “The city has been working on the grant for six months.”

She commended the efforts it takes to compile the mounds of necessary data compilation, accounting and other pieces that must all be in place before approval can be considered.

“Everybody involved in putting grant applications together does a good job,” she said. “Those grants don’t just come to us. “(City Engineer) Brian Miller, the mayor and everyone involved figure out what the city needs and they are active in finding grants to meet those needs. It’s not just about waiting for things to come to us. We’ve been really successful in getting grants and that is good for the community.”

Additionally, the city relies on the assistance of Ayers Associates, contracted by the city to help the application, processing and submittal of necessary forms as well as advising on other financing details related to grants.

Ayers has been really great as far as guiding us through the whole process and helping us receive as much (potential) funding as we can,” said Jan Kust, assistant to the mayor.

She described an application process that included tremendous volumes of paperwork (a thickness she measured in inches) that required scrupulous attention to detail regarding items such as historical, archeological, environmental and other city documentation. That volume of paperwork enabled the city to show how delivery of the grant funding would meet the city’s proposed infrastructure projects and address the economic recovery as it relates to the COVID-19 pandemic.

ALLOCATION OF POTENTIAL FUNDING

If awarded the EDA grant, projects accommodated through those funds include both infrastructure and COVID-19-related undertakings. For example, the construction/addition to a portion of the city municipal garage on Ely Street will be used to house a COVID-19 community protection and screening facility for the large employers in that area.

Additionally, the grant requires applicants to apportion the funds for improvements related to expanding industry and new jobs that contribute the growth and needs of the community.

For example, Fincantieri’s Marinette Marine’s (FMM) new contract with the U.S. Navy to construct a fleet of advanced Constellation class frigates served as a primary impetus behind the city’s effort to secure the grant.

“We knew Marinette Marine was going to be growing, (along with) the (transportation) corridor that supports (FMM), Tyco (and other businesses),” Genisot said. “So we’ve been working for months to apply for these (EDA and TEA) grants.” (see EFFECTIVE ART OF GRANT APPLICATION).

The influx of new employees and expansive additions currently underway at the shipyard to accommodate that contract also warrants the necessary municipal infrastructure to support that growth. The city will earmark some of the funds for additional road and infrastructure projects on Ludington and Main Street.

“(FMM) is trying to grow and (the city) is trying to let them grow,” Kowalski said. “In terms of industry, there are lots of employers (in Marinette) and anything we can do to help, we are going to do.”

When probed for Marinette’s chances to receive the EDA grant, the mayor responded with optimistic reservation. He pointed out that while the EDA grant has yet to be awarded, the fact that the EDA oversight officials are requesting additional information from the city (Tuesday’s resolution) represents a very good indication that the gears are turning in Marinette’s favor.


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Marinette County still must find a home for sex offender

EagleHerald Editor

MARINETTE—Now that the Mudbrook Road home located near the border of the towns of Porterfield and Lake is no longer an option to house a violent sex offender, Marinette County must find a suitable location.

“We just start back from square one,” County Administrator John Lefebvre said Wednesday.

The County Board on Tuesday voted 28-2 against the development of a home for transitional living on a county-owned parcel, W4802 Mudbrook Road, including purchase of a used sectional home from Bay Area Homes and other expenses related to development of property at an estimated cost of $115,000.

The county received notice on Feb. 10 that an offender (James M. Harris, age 52) from the Sand Ridge Secure Treatment Center in Mauston, Wisconsin, will be released to Marinette County. That center houses “Chapter 980” offenders, which according to state statutes are labeled “Sexually Violent Person Commitments.”

Wisconsin Chapter 980, which took effect in 1994, allows civil commitment and treatment for certain sex offenders after they complete criminal sentences. For many years after Chapter 980 took effect, violent sex offenders have faced hurdles finding places to live. In 2017, Act 184 was adopted which required counties where the offenders were convicted to find suitable housing after they have completed their prison sentences.

On March 11, the county’s 980 Committee met in closed session to discuss 980 placement. No action was taken when that committee returned to open session.

The Administrative Committee unanimously approved the motion for the development of a transitional home on March 18. That panel also unanimously approved a motion for Corporation Counsel Gale Mattison and Lefebvre to negotiate a lease with the Wisconsin Department of Health Services Supervised Release Program.

There is another Chapter 980 home in the county—in the Town of Pound—but it is owned by a private entity. There is no room in that house as the home is at the maximum capacity of two residents. No private entity has stepped forward to lease a home for the sex offender that is being released.

Lefebvre, on Wednesday, said the chance that the county could develop a property is “now pretty much off the table.” He said even if the county was granted a 30-day extension, it would not be enough time to develop a property.

“Where I think we need to concentrate our efforts are is one, find an existing structure or residence that the county could purchase that would be acceptable to the county board,” he said. “I don’t know if there is such a thing, considering whatever neighborhood we located in, those neighbors are going to gather together and do the same thing that the Mudbrook people did. I would be surprised if they didn’t.”

About 100 people from the Mudbrook Road neighborhood attended Tuesday’s board meeting. Sixteen of those residents spoke during public comment against placing a violent sex offender in their neighborhood. Many written letters were received and supervisors were besieged with phone calls, texts and emails.

“The other option is to really shift (our attention to) the potential businessman and investors and people who are looking to make some money,” Lefebvre said, “because DHS (Department of Health Services) pays a fairly good rent. They are a good lessor.”

Lefebvre said he has been looking at structures in the county and has come up empty. He has searched Zillow and the county’s Multiple Listing Service.

“There’s none jumping out at me,” he said of possible homes to purchase.

Lefebvre said it would be advantageous if a private party stepped forward.

“If we can find a private entity that has a home, that meets the requirements, than we as a county don’t have to do anything other than to connect that private entity with DHS,” he said. “So we’re out of it. The County Board doesn’t have to do anything.”

He said the county’s Chapter 980 Committee would just make a recommendation to DHS, which would then work with the property owner. That’s exactly what happened with the residence in Pound.

“DHS reached out to the county and right after they reached out, they said ‘we have a private entity that’s willing to put up these individuals’ and the county was out of it,” Lefebvre said.

If a county can’t find suitable housing, it risks a forfeiture of $500 to $1,000 per day, plus attorney fees, for violating the court order.

The administrator explained that a plan must be submitted to DHS by June 10.

“Understand, it’s not an immediate fine,” he said. “It’s going to take some type of court action by the individual.”

At Tuesday’s meeting both Lefebvre and Mattison spoke of the legal ramifications of violating the court order.

“It’s easy to say we don’t want them here,” Mattison said. “It’s the law. Like it or not, it’s the law. That person needs to be placed in Marinette County and there’s very strict criteria where the placement is.”

Lefebvre said, “That’s what the forfeitures are for—you are violating this individuals rights. You may look at it and say ‘we don’t really care, he’s a convicted felon.’ They still have rights.”

Some supervisors commented Tuesday that they don’t care about the legal issues; they don’t want a violent sex offender on Mudbrook Road.

Now it’s up to the county to find suitable housing, unless a private entity steps forward.


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Peshtigo Referendum 2021, learn, inform, VOTE

EagleHerald staff writer

MARINETTE—A survey of the nation’s school districts by the National Center for Education Statistics approximates that the “average age of the nation’s main school buildings was 55 years old—putting the average date of construction for our nation’s schools at 1959.

Citing that statistic, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency states that “nearly one-fourth of the nation’s schools have one or more buildings in need of extensive repair or replacement and nearly half have been reported to have problems related to indoor air quality.”

For that reason and more, the upcoming Tuesday election carries great implications for the Peshtigo School District, its teacher and students, all members of the Peshtigo community and the future of the aging Peshtigo Middle/High School.

Two informational meetings, Wednesday (in-person at the school) and Thursday (via-Zoom), centered on the two questions regarding the district’s Referendum 2021. If approved Tuesday, it will result in substantial upgrades and renovations to the Middle/High School building and the development of a large acreage of land for student athletic and community recreation.

According to Business Development Manager of Performances Services, Inc. (PSI), Lauren Wanner, the primary focus of the meetings was the continued dissemination of open and accurate information to the public regarding the referendum. She explained the meetings served to engage and welcome questions from the public and to address the fiscal responsibility and the timeline should voters approve it.

“And our firm’s focus solely on (maintaining the building as) an educational facility first and construction site second,” Wanner said. “Everything that we do for the students and for the staff is at the district’s discretion and it is a very integral partnership.”

PSI is a design and engineering firm that specializes in the K-12 market. According to Wanner, 96% of the firm’s business involves that market. The district contracted with them to assist in developing the best possible solution for district improvements that meets the needs of the student, teachers and the community while imparting the least burden to taxpayers and the district’s financial capacity. Much research, planning and community engagement went into the final referendum solution.

“(The sdistrict) has had multiple community meetings and facility advisory committees,” Wanner said. “And we’ve really listened to the public. We wanted to focus on the needs of the school and not the wants. So that is what the solution is about, looking at what the district needs as a whole based on what the community feels is important.”

And some residents and parents attending those meetings expressed the good communication that continues to flow regarding the referendum.

Tammie Paoli a parent of two students (fourth and seventh grade) in the Peshtigo school system (the seventh-grader attends the Middle/High School) commended the “thorough” information available on the Referendum website (https://www.peshtigo.k12.wi.us/districtinfo/referendum_2021), through emails and social media.

“(PSI and the district) have done a really good job of coming out on the front end of people’s questions,” Paoli said. “I feel like this process has brought people in a lot more and I am hoping for a ‘yes’ vote on Tuesday.”

Julius Beyer, who works as an engineering technician at Marinette Marine, has several grandchildren that attend Peshtigo School District. He attended the Wednesday meeting to gain a better understanding of the referendum. As of Wednesday, he remained undecided about how he will cast his vote Tuesday.

“Peshtigo is a very desirable school district,” Beyer said. “I think they are doing a very good job … but I really don’t know (how I am going to vote), I’m up in the air, that’s why I’m here.”

The referendum asks two questions, addressing two projects that will bring improvements to the district, the community and, more specifically, to the Middle/High School Building.

The first asks voters to approve a $33.2 million infrastructure and expansion of the Middle/High School, providing for improved environmental conditions, expanded curriculum programming and utility upgrades that modernize the building. The second question asks for an additional $1.825 million to fund a “green space” development on land west of the Peshtigo Elementary Learning Center for the creation of athletic fields, parking and trails. The green space would not only accommodate student extracurricular activities but also be available for public use.

Wanner and her colleague, Jim Beckmann, an education consultant at PSI, stressed how a modernized infrastructure upgrade to the aging school building would greatly benefit students.

ENVIRONMENT TO MEET THE NEEDS

It comes down to maintaining an optimal learning environment.

Wanner explained that an optimal learning environment includes the essentials such as lighting, temperature, sound, humidity and air quality.

“It’s about making sure that those (educational) spaces meet and exceed those needs,” she said. “And in a district that has aging equipment and systems … it’s really important to understand the building as a whole and what all goes into an optimal learning facility.”

When it comes to being a parent, for Paoli zeroing in what that means for his or her child takes priority.

As a fisheries biologist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, she feels the proposed referendum meets all the needs of students in a fiscally responsible manner that results in a low increase in the school levy imposed to taxpayers if approved. She expressed much enthusiasm for referendum components that address the growing needs of the technical education programs and the sciences. The solution also promises to update the amenities provided for the school’s female athletic department.

“The fact that some of the science labs will be expanded is a huge thing,” she said. “And the expansion of the girls’ locker room … these schools were built back in the day when girls’ sports were kind of an afterthought … so finally, this referendum would address some of those inequities.”

Wanner added that the community and district did a phenomenal job in identifying those kinds of needs.

She also explained that according to research, optimal environment plays an integral part in test score outcomes, the ability of students to focus and it allows children to function throughout the day at a pace that meets individual learning and social needs.

Moreover, Jim Beckmann, a senior education consultant at PSI, offered evidence of how the environment affects students. He cited a 2017 Harvard School of Environmental Health & Safety that showed that indoor environmental quality correlates directly to student test scores.

Additionally, a content analysis research paper out of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s Healthy Buildings Program compiled the findings of over 200 scientific studies and revealed several trends related to student performance as related to a building’s environmental quality. Studies showed that of 75,000 high school students in New York City, individual students were 12.3% more likely to fail an exam on a 90-degree day versus a 75-degree day. The research also found that ventilation inside a school building was linked to student fatigue, lower attention spans and lack of ability to concentrate.

“If you lower temperatures, humidity and CO2 levels test scores go up,” Beckmann said. “It’s a better learning environment, so we (PSI) use that as our basis when we design our buildings.”

Furthermore, Beckmann underscored that the Middle/High School has done a lot with a little for many years. He said it has reached a point where the district needs to and update the facilities. Much of those needed updates include outdated environmental control systems in the school as well as electric and power systems.

“What we have hopefully shown (with research and information) then is how we can do that (renovation) and maintain some of the histories of the school building,” he said. “If you don’t have facilities that can accommodate 21{sup}st{/sup} Century learning, kids have a choice to go elsewhere. Peshtigo would like to draw people and students from surrounding areas while keeping their own students here.”

In the end, the meeting organizers stressed the critical need to just educate yourself and make an informed vote on Tuesday.

For more information on the referendum, visit the website: https://www.peshtigo.k12.wi.us/districtinfo/referendum_2021


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