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Let The County Grounds Serve As The Symbol For Scott Walker’s Legacy

When David introduced me to you kind folks, he pointed out my personal blog, Cognitive Dissidence.  What he didn’t mention, and probably didn’t know, is that I am also the Chair for a grassroots movement, Milwaukee County First, which we started three years ago to fight against the disaster Scott Walker was making of Milwaukee County and to work on restoring our county to its previous position as a leader in the state and in the country.

The following is the most recent article from MCF’s website:

In the Milwaukee suburb of Wauwatosa, there is an area that is commonly referred to as the “county grounds.”

It is a vast area of land, parts of which is leased to Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin and Froedtert Hospital (which was once the county-owned Doyne’s Hospital until sold off decades ago).  The county grounds also is home to the Milwaukee County Behavioral Health Division, the delapidated county greenhouses, and a business park.

The county grounds also contains two rare treasures – the Monarch Trail and the Eschweiler Buildings.

The Monarch Trail is part of the last undeveloped and ungroomed natural space in Milwaukee County.  It contains one of the rare places in the country which acts as an oasis for the Monarch Butterflies.  Due to the unique form of the county grounds – including a large sequoia tree – and an abundance of milkweed, the Monarch butterflies’ food, the area is a spot where the Monarchs gather every year in their annual migration from the north to their wintering homes in Mexico and Central America.

The Eschweiler Buildings are a cluster of buildings which were built in the early 1900s, originally the home of an agricultural school:

In 1910, Milwaukee County’s rural population was the second largest in the state. For this reason, the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors established a high school of agriculture and domestic economy, one of the state’s first ventures into technical education. Graduates would meet University of Wisconsin entrance requirements and would also gain education in improved methods of farming and in homemaking skills.

Alexander C. Eschweiler designed the school’s buildings including a residence hall and buildings for dairy, poultry and horticulture studies. When the school opened in 1912, Milwaukee County residents were admitted free, and non-residents paid tuition of $27 per month. The Milwaukee Taxpayer League reported in 1916, however, that the cost of the school was not justified by its small enrollment. World War I veterans increased the student body for a time, but by 1928, the county’s rural population had decreased and the school was closed. A total of 215 students had graduated from the school in two, three and four year programs.

Since the time that the school was closed, the buildings have been used for a variety of purposes, with perhaps the most notorious was serving as a Tuberculosis Sanitarium for the county.

Most recently, the buildings housed various businesses, educational groups and government services.

In 1978, the buildings were designated as a historical landmark.

A couple of decades ago, there had been talk about handing the county grounds over to land developers, but this was met with a strong resistance from the people of Milwaukee County and the idea was stopped dead in its tracks.  In the face of the groundswell of support for the county grounds, Milwaukee County and the City of Wauwatosa both pledged to preserve the land and its historic buildings and unique environmental treasure.

When Scott Walker was swept into the office of Milwaukee County Executive, ironically as a result of a recall election, he had also promised to preserve these treasures, saying that if he were to do anything, it would be to work at having the area designated as a state park.

But as is all too often the case with Walker, what he says and what he does are two vastly different things.

Instead of filling positions in the important Economic Development Division with competent people that would be able to attract businesses to Milwaukee County, he instead filled it with campaign staffers like Robert Dennik and Tim Russell.  (Yes, that is the same Tim Russell that has been arrested and charged as a result of the ongoing Walkergate investigations.)

One of the many bad things that happened from Walker’s poor decision making is that as businesses and agencies moved out of the county grounds, none moved in to take their place.

By 2006, the buildings stood empty.

The empty buildings quickly started succumbing to the weather, aided by the fact that Walker’s austerity measures prevented from the county from taking any preservation or preventative measures, or even allowing the utilities to stay on.  He refused even in the face of a letter written my then Wauwatosa Mayor Theresa Estness, which reminded him of his promise to split the cost of sealing the buildings in an effort to preserve them.

You can see pictures of the damage from the weather, the neglect and vandalism that has occurred over the years here and here.

Then, not satisfied with intentional neglect, and with a new conservative mayor in Wauwatosa, Jill Didier, Walker decided to break his promise completely and started courting the necessary authorities to allow the grounds to be sold to land developers.

The pretense was that they would build a new school there, as an extension of the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee, even though the land is all the way across the county from the UWM campus.  Furthermore, to build a school that would take up only a few acres, he wanted to sell 89 acres of pristine land, including the Monarch Trail and the Eschweiler Buildings.

There was a large and vocal protest against this move.  The students and the faculty didn’t want a building so far from campus.  The environmentalists were outraged at the damage it would cause not only to the Monarch Trail but to the waterways and natural area surrounding this.  Urban advocates argued that there were many more appropriate places to build the school.

But Walker, as he did throughout his time as county executive and as he is doing as governor, ignored the will of the people and focused on the will of the wealthy land developers who also were supporting his campaign.

The people turned to the Milwaukee County Board, but they only saw the money that could be used to partially fill the holes that Walker intentionally left in his county budget (which he is continuing to do as governor).

Likewise the Mayor of Wauwatosa, aided by the land developers, sold a false bill of goods to the Common Council.

The end result was that the land was indeed sold to the land developers, who have had problems coming up with the cash for the purchase price of the land, even though it was very much below the actual worth of the land.  The taxpayers are stuck with a $12 million TIF that was completely avoidable and ill-advised.

Oh, the powers that be, from Walker to the Board to the Common Council to the developers themselves, promised that the Monarch Trail would be preserved and that the Eschweiler Buildings would be restored and converted into apartments.

But those also proved to be lies.

The developers have already encroached upon the Monarch Trail, invading space that is supposed to be protected areas.  There have been reports of large swatches of milkweed plants being mowed down.

Adding to these atrocities is the design of the “Innovation Park,” as they call it, is that the design of the layout of buildings and parking lots will drive all the natural wildlife out of the area into the neighborhoods and roads surrounding the area.  There will be literally hundreds of animals killed by the loss of their habitat.

And even if the Monarch Trail remains untouched, which seems unlikely, the stopping point of the butterflies might be lost due to the disturbances and the change of the landscape which is what draws the butterflies there in the first place.

It has also recently been reported that, due to the years of neglect, the promise of preserving the Eschweiler Buildings probably will not be kept.  The land developers turned around and immediately tried to sell the buildings to another private firm which would convert the buildings.  This firm is now claiming that it’s too expensive to save all the buildings:

UWM officials have been negotiating a sale of the Eschweiler buildings to Mandel Group Inc., which wants to convert them into apartments. But after receiving cost estimates from four different firms, Mandel executives believe restoring all the buildings may not be financially feasible, said Robert Monnat, the firm’s chief operating officer.

“Our goal, our passion, is to do everything we can to save those buildings,” Monnat said.

But, he said, the structures have deterio rated significantly after several years of being empty.

“We’re not in a position to commit financial hara-kiri to save buildings that, if they had been caught earlier, something could have been done with them,” Monnat said.

Mandel executives have been in talks with city officials and others in Wauwatosa about the buildings. The firm hasn’t yet reached a purchase agreement with the UWM foundation, nor has it submitted a development proposal to the city.

“The possibility of taking down some of those buildings is in the air,” said Common Council President Dennis McBride. “It’s an unhappy discussion.”

It should be noted that the news report is inaccurate in the sense that no one is negotiations with UWM officials.  The UWM Foundation, which is the name taken by the consortium of wealthy land developers, has absolutely nothing to do with the University of Wisconsin system.

But these failures to keep their promises, which Milwaukee County First has been warning of for years, is deserving of being the symbol of Scott Walker’s reign, both as Milwaukee County Executive or as governor.  This sad tale has all the trademarks that Walker is known for:

  • Lying about his real intent regarding something,
  • His willful ignoring of the will of the people,
  • His behavior of favoring the wealthy over the common good,
  • His cynical manipulation of people to reach his own ends,
  • His complete and utter disregard for the history of Wisconsin (which is not his home state),
  • His complete and utter disregard for the environment, and
  • The high price of his austerity ideology, which are hidden until it’s too late.

May this sad tale also reflect the need of the people to get involved with the actions of their government, on all levels, and stay alert to the goings on so that future tragedies like this may be averted.

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