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Green light for school district

EagleHerald staff writer

MARINETTE—The Marinette School District Wednesday sailed past another milestone on the road to providing a sustainable educational program that benefits the community, faculty, staff and ensures the provision of an educational programing that meets the needs of all future students.

It’s one more step in the very exciting process that we are trying to build for our students and for our future,” Superintendent Corry Lambie told the EagleHerald after the commission’s decisions.

The passage of the district’s $30.9 million Rightsizing referendum in last November’s election led up to Wednesday night’s unanimous approval by the Marinette Plan Commission, giving the green light to conditional use permits and site plans for the district’s next step toward big changes coming to Marinette School District in the next two years.

Designed by Somerville Inc., an architectural firm out of Green Bay, those approved site plans detail additions that will be made to Merryman Elementary School and Park Elementary School as well as upgrades to the middle and high schools.

The additions at both schools will allow for the consolidation of operations, taking the district from six buildings down to four, which Lambie said will lead to more efficient operations.

“It’s a big topic for the city,” said Marinette Mayor Steve Genisot. “The school district has certainly put a lot of effort in educating the public as far as getting their referendum approved … These are very big projects in the City of Marinette.”

Genisot also commended the district’s efforts to maintain open lines of efficient communication for project information.

Following the meeting, Lambie expressed similar appreciation for the city’s continued support.

“It’s great to have the city’s support early on in this project,” Lambie said. “We have been collaborating with them on a fairly regular basis just to make sure that we are transparent in the process and what we are trying to move forward with.”

Rightsizing efforts began over two years ago with a year-long facilities study that revealed significant needs throughout the district. Moreover, it also cast light on the fact that the district’s outgoing graduation numbers were outpacing the incoming numbers of kindergarten students, leading to a less concentrated student population inside more facility space than was necessary to meet the needs of that population.

In addition, declining enrollment lead to diminishing returns on revenue that, since 2003, dropped by approximately $3.5 million during the years leading up to 2020. Complicating matters, as state funding relies largely on enrollment numbers, that income source also fell. Also, roof upgrades at the middle school and high school introduced additional budgetary costs. As such, fiscal burdens on the district only grew.

In an effort to maintain fiscal responsibility, the school officials proposed the Rightsizing referendum.

Essentially, the consolidation from four to six schools—after the Park and Merryman additions are completed—would transfer early childhood education through first grade to Merryman, while second through fourth grades move to Park Elementary School. Marinette Middle School and Marinette High School would remain the same but undergo some upgrades.

“I think this is really going to modernize the learning environment for our kids,” Lambie said. “All of those resources, right there, in a very modern learning environment ... so we are excited about it for our staff and for our students.”

During the meeting, Somerville Vice President of Client Relation Melanie Parma gave a brief overview of the Park and Merryman additions. At Park elementary, those additions will include a new secure entrance, new commons area, new gymnasium, new library and classroom additions.

Additions at Merryman Elementary follow a similar scenario including a new entrance, new classrooms, a multipurpose space, commons, office space and libraries. A new parking lot will also accommodate staff parking at Merryman.

The projected timetable puts project completion in 2022, bringing classes in session at the new additions for the 2022-23 school year.


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Infrastructure Committee updated on parks

EagleHerald Staff Writer

MARINETTE—Marinette County Facilities and Parks Director Marty Keyport gave an update to the Infrastructure Committee Wednesday on the goings-on in the county parks..

Because the past winter has been mild, Keyport said the parks have been open and in use for several months, but as the weather grows warmer they will start to see even more use. “It’s certainly looking like another year similar to last year. A lot of folks are getting outside and using the resources available to them right here in the county, and things are kicking off on a nice note,” he said.

He said a joint effort between the Parks, Forestry and Highway departments resulted in more parking at Dave’s Falls near Amberg. “That is one of the busier falls, if not the busiest, due to its convenience of being right off the highway,” he said.

He also said a new walkway was completed to connect to a new viewing platform at Veteran’s Falls, near Crivitz. “We’re trying to work towards some form—any form—of accessibility, so when those folks get to those falls they’ve got more flat surface area to get different vantage points. We connected the former, original staircase going down with a walkway over to that viewing platform,” he said.

Keyport said the schedule for Camp Bird, near Crivitz, is a little bit more sporadic than last year, as he said some groups who are planning to use the facility are still figuring out what they’re plans are and how they’re going to do them. “But the good news is we’ve got groups out there and we’re getting good use out of that facility,” he said.

Keyport also said the Parks Department is a little light-handed at the moment with two technically vacant positions. He said one position was filled already but won’t begin until Monday, and the other has been posted. “We had other decent applicants on that first pool, so we can dip back in there and look at that based on what applicants we get, so we’re very confident in the fact that we’ll get some good caretakers out there,” he said.

On the facilities side of things, Keyport said a long-time custodian is planning on retiring soon and a new vacancy will be opening up in June. “Claire Anderson has been with the county just under 16 years and has diligently cleaned every building in the county. Next week you’ll see her out there wanting to get the flower beds spruced up before she retires on June 1. It’s something she really enjoys and it makes our buildings look amazing, so we made sure to allow time for her to do that. We’ll have a custodian vacancy there, so we should have applicants for that. I’m curious how the job market’s looking with that right now because every building you look in has got a ‘Hiring’ sign in the window, but it’ll be hard to fill her shoes when you’ve got someone who knows every nook and cranny,” he said.

“(By) May 25, I’m fairly confident that when the County Board agenda is set up, the location for that meeting will be: first floor, County Board Room, Marinette County Courthouse, 1926 Hall Avenue. There’s an electrician in there working right now, we’ve got AV (audio-visual) coming within about a week and a half,” he said. “Of course, like anything, you’ve got to have a couple good glitches in there to make you worry just a little bit; the supply chain issue again, so we’ve got a couple of things on a supply chain issue that we should see in time.”


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FMM, Stay informed and stay safe
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EagleHerald staff writer

MARINETTE—To ensure the public safety and the fluidity of operations for a project that entails blasting and dredging activities along a portion of the Menominee River just off the shipyard’s shoreline, Fincantieri Marinette Marine (FMM) Chief Executive Officer Jan Allman briefed City of Marinette officials on project details Tuesday night during the Common Council meeting.

For the most part, the river will remain open for normal activities with the exception of restricting certain areas over short and daily recurring spans of time on weekdays. Those restrictions put limits on when and where boating, fishing, swimming and other activities can occur in relation to the project activities.

Allman’s presentation detailed the timing and safety implementations to ensure the well-being of those who use the river recreationally as well as assurance that the operations will not significantly influence daily river routines and leisure activities upon which a portion of Marinette tourism relies.

SAFETY DETAILS

The project officially began in April, focusing mainly on initial dredging work. However, starting next week, work transitions into underwater blasting operations of the bedrock base in the Menominee River at a location just off the shipyard’s riverfront. The production schedule slates the initial test blast for some time between Monday and Wednesday followed by the first production blasts, tentatively on Thursday. Allman anticipates active blasting operations to continue Monday through Friday through the summer and into the first part of the fall, ending Oct. 21.

Among those safety measures, several location-specific river restrictions will be enforced for a short time each day. Additionally, overarching general operational and site-specific restrictions will persist throughout the duration of the large project.

The blasting work will generally commence between 4 and 5 p.m each weekday. While blasting operations proceed, the river will remain closed within 1,000 feet of Marinette Marine for approximately 20 minutes each day, or while workers ensure that safe passage through the river can resume (see Safety Zone map).

Additionally, Allman emphasized that during each 20-minute blasting period, swimming and jet ski activities will not be allowed in the river between the Ogden Street Bridge and the Interestate (US 41) Bridge.

A barge positioned in the work zone will issue a warning signal to alert anyone in the vicinity of the forthcoming blast five minutes prior. This warning will consist of a one-minute series of long audible tones. Then, one minute prior to the blast, a series of short audible signals will be emitted. Once the blast is completed, workers will inspect the area for integrity and safety before sounding a prolonged “all clear” signal.

While the blasting operations and associated river restrictions and closures related to the project occur only at specific times each day, the project’s dredging and other activities continue on a 24-hour timetable. For this reason, FMM has implemented a specific restricted zone that includes a safe “bypass channel” (see Restricted Zone map) for boaters traversing up or downriver.

“We will be drilling and blasting in the daylight hours only,” Allman said. “Excavation will take place at night and on weekends.”

PROJECT PURPOSE

Essentially, the complex operation seeks to remove several inches of the bedrock, effectively increasing the river depth in that area to allow for the safe launch and navigation of the new and larger line of advanced Constellation Class Frigates (FFG-62). In April of 2020, the U.S. Navy awarded FMM the frigate contract, which promises to boost the area’s economy and employment opportunities. Additionally, the work will also facilitate the construction of a large device called a “syncrolift” that is capable of gently lowering the more massive ships into the water, as the shipyard moves away from the side launch method. The FFG-62 measures up and weighs in at 496 feet in length with an estimated displacement of 7,400 tons, according to a Congressional Research Service report on the FFG-62 program background for the U.S. Congress.

The construction work presently underway, both in the river and throughout the shipyard complex, serves as part of an over $200 million capital expansion by which FMM will augment, expand and renovate various facilities and equipment at the shipyard to accommodate the construction of the new frigates.

ADDRESSING OTHER BLASTING QUESTIONS

Allman also touched on the minimal impact the project imparts on the surrounding environment.

Addressing concerns of potential decibel levels produced by the blasting, she explained that individual blast noise will likely reside at levels below the current hubbub of production work underway further in-shore within the shipyard complex. From the surface, a single underwater blast appears and sounds relatively low-key, according to a video of similar blast operations posted on the FMM Construction Update website. On the Menominee River, unless directly observing the blast, each detonation should go unnoticed to area residents.

“We don’t anticipate that anyone will notice anything different,” Allman informed the council.

Additionally, during blasting and dredging, several methods will maintain the welfare of fish and other underwater wildlife as well as reducing the level of excess sediment created by the work.

Through the use of a specialized preventative measure known as a “bubble curtain,” work crews will pump pressurized air through a series of underwater tubes running along the river bed and around the perimeter of the blast area. As the name implies, the pressurized air creates a thick wall of bubbles that discourage fish migration through the blast area, controls water turbidity and lowers blast pressure.

“The project has been authorized by the Army Corps of Engineers and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources,” Allman said, adding that such blasting techniques represent routine procedures used by similar harbor projects to increase the depth of the water.

STAY INFORMED TO STAY SAFE

Finally, to maintain public awareness and ensure that safety remains the priority, FMM conducted thorough dissemination of project information throughout the area at businesses and to individuals associated with leisure and other river endeavors. That information contains details on safety measures and the timing of weekday blasting operations and associated water activity limitations throughout the duration of the project.

Additionally, informational signs will be posted at boat launch ramps and marinas by today and remain throughout the project. Detailed information on project activity, purpose and safety measures may also be accessed on FMM’s website by following this link: https://fincantierimarinettemarine.com/construction-update/

“We’ve also brought information to the local tackle shop and anywhere else that we think we would see boaters,” Allman said. “We have done mailings to people (who use) the marina to make sure that they are fully aware of what is happening and the times of when it actually occurs.”

Moreover, during Memorial Day, the observation of Independence Day (July 5), Labor Day (Sept. 6) and Thanksgiving Day, project activity will cease. Also, non-work days will also coincide with big events such as fishing tournaments on the Menominee River. At this time, blasting operations are not scheduled to take place during weekends.

 

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Marinette receive $1 million grant
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EagleHerald staff writer

MADISON, Wis. — Thursday morning at 1905 Hall Ave. (Marinette City Hall) unfolded with a bit upbeat commotion as notifications, confirmations and congratulations flooded into the mayor’s office regarding a long-awaited and official announcement from Gov. Tony Evers. Evers, along with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT), officially awarded the City of Marinette a $1 million grant to help boost the city’s fortification of road construction projects and also to pave a promising road toward winning a much greater funding opportunity from the federal government.

Approved by WisDOT Secretary-designee Craig Thompson, the $1 million Transportation Economic Assistance (TEA) grant award, which was catalyzed in large part to the job and economic growth and development related to various expansion and construction projects underway throughout the Fincantieri Marinette Marine (FMM). Those shipyard projects are meant to ready FMM for the construction of a new line of U.S. Navy, technologically advanced Constellation Class frigates.

“It’s a good day for (Marinette) taxpayers and a good day for shipbuilding,” Marinette Mayor Steve Genisot told the EagleHerald via phone in a brief window of calm on a busy day.

The TEA program provides financial assistance to communities to support transportation infrastructure improvements that help attract new employers or encourage existing employers to expand. A municipal or county unit of government must sponsor a TEA application. The project must have the local government’s endorsement, and it must benefit the public.

For some time, the anticipation among city officials regarding the TEA Grant remained high as an unofficial confirmation award arrived several weeks ago. Thursday, however, a long period of hard work and grant application processing culminated with Evers’s announcement.

“We are proud to be partners with Fincantieri and the City of Marinette in this tremendous project, which not only will create jobs and stimulate the local economy but will also show the world the type of high-quality and technologically advanced products that are made right here in Wisconsin,” Gov. Evers said.

In April of 2020, FMM received a $795 million contract to build the first of up to 10 new Constellation frigates for the U.S. Navy. If the Navy commissions FMM to build all 10 frigates, the contract burgeons to a total of $5.6 billion. Moreover, that contract promises to gradually and considerably increase the shipyard’s employee base by about 1,000 new workers. Over $200 million in capital expansion projects are currently in progress at the shipyard, implementing facility improvements, additions and upgrades to accommodate construction of the new Navy frigates. In addition, over the past five years, the WisDOT has also awarded $34 million directly to Fincantieri Marinette Marine from the Harbor Assistance Program (HAP) for shipyard improvements.

“Our important work here at Fincantieri Marinette Marine is made possible because of strong relationships and collaboration with our surrounding communities and their leaders,” said FMM CEO Jan Allman. “The city of Marinette and Mayor Steve Genisot have been instrumental in our continued progress. That support is enabled by strong advocates in our state legislature as well as Governor Evers.”

In a recent interview with Genisot, the mayor stated that annually the city generally engages in about $1 million worth of road and infrastructure projects, which only underscores the TEA Grant’s positive financial impacts for Marinette.

“This significant investment by Wisconsin DOT will bring future economic development for years to come,” Genisot said. “We appreciate this great partnership and the efforts by all those involved to support and strengthen Navy shipbuilding in our community.”

A press release from the Governor’s office stated that the TEA grant provides additional support for the planned increase in shipbuilding productivity at FMM. The grant supports a $2.6 million reconstruction of Ludington Street in Marinette that will provide better access to the Fincantieri shipbuilding facility.

The city plans to reconstruct Ludington Street from the U.S. Highway 41/Hall Avenue intersection east to Stanton Street near the entrance of Fincantieri’s shipyard. The project will fortify the road base and lay down add new pavement and stormwater drainage. City officials expect to break ground on the project later this year with completion slated for the fall of 2022.

“Time and again we have seen how investments in our transportation infrastructure help strengthen communities, create jobs and strengthen local economies,” Secretary-designee Thompson said. “In 2020, I was pleased to approve 11 TEA grants totaling $5.2 million, which will help create 1,005 new jobs and retain an additional 716 jobs.”

POTENTIAL FOR MUCH MORE

In April, before the TEA grant announcement, Common Council President Dorothy Kowalski described the dedication and commitment that goes into applying for such grants.

“Everybody involved in putting grant applications together does a good job,” Kowalski said. “Those grants don’t just come to us. The 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.”

During that time the EagleHerald also reported on the city’s application efforts and the promising potential of winning an even larger infrastructure grant.

Worth $5 million, the Economic Development Administration (EDA) Public Works Infrastructure grant represents part of the billions of dollars of available economic development assistance included in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. At a March 20 Special Common Council meeting, after almost a year steeped in application paperwork under the guidance of Ayres Associates, a company that assists in the application process, city officials put the final touches on the EDA grant application for those federal funds. According to Genisot, Marinette’s chances of winning the grant look good.

“We’ve got some positive feedback from the EDA but nothing official,” he informed the EagleHerald Thursday. “It is looking good but until it is official, it’s not official.”

If successful, Marinette could have a busy and prosperous year of infrastructure improvements for which the taxpayers carry no burden. The city hopes to utilize the TEA grant funds to pay

According to the EDA grant application, the city must provide a 20% match of that approximate $5 million in funding. After all the calculations those matching funds equate to about $973,000. However, thanks to the $1 million state TEA grant awarded yesterday as well as some creative forethought and insightful financial calculus on the part of engineering consultant firm Ayres Associates, who assists the city in grant applications, taxpayer money will not be footing the bill to meet that 20% match.

Instead, the city plans to combine federal and state dollars, using the $1 million state TEA grant to cover the $973,000 match on the federal EDA grant.

Genisot remains optimistically reserved on the expanding potential of growth and development on the Marinette horizon.

“So much development is starting to come to a head,” he said.


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