Took the tour of Franklin’s brand new Forest Park Middle School tonight

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In a word: IMPRESSIVE!

How could it not be! $43 million. $43 million.

I attended tonight’s (Tuesday’s) Open House and the place did not disappoint. $43 million.

My observations

The sheer size. The school is huge, but certainly not unmanageable.

It’s a middle school, right? But if you didn’t know that, you’d swear you were in a high school.

The school has what? I’ve been in a ton of schools all over. Personally, I’ve never seen classrooms and hallways lined with carpeting. In a middle school no less.

Know your audience. The opening ceremonies prior to the ribbon cutting. The Open House was billed as 6:00-8:00. The actual ribbon-cutting took place at 6:17 due to guest speakers. I get that. No offense. But no one came to hear School Board President Janet Evans, the school superintendent, or a representative from the WI Association of School Boards. You could almost sense the feel in the crowd. LET’S GET IN THE BUILDING ALREADY!

Thank you, thank you, thank you. At a ceremony like this there are lots of thank you’s, understandably. But I never heard, at least not in these words, this expression of gratitude.

“Thank you, citizens of Franklin, who went to the polls and generously voted to increase your property taxes to support the construction of this beautiful school.”

$43 million.

MOST IMPRESSIVE TO ME. Besides the obvious. The enormity. The classrooms. The newness. The natural light. The cleanliness. The gym that outclasses those at high schools. The air conditioning.

How about the vast shop classes. I was lucky to pound a nail into a board in the 8th grade in a  tiny room. Very important, especially at the middle school age.

FINALLY, I wonder if this has been resolved because I don’t know.

Franklin looking to build a new school, possibly two

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To do that the school district would need to purchase land.

At the August 21, 2019 meeting of the Franklin School Board, Director of Business Services for the school district said Franklin is exploring purchasing 223 acres of vacant land at 8903 W. Ryan Road. Many future residents would live in the area because there’s a good deal of open land.

One elementary school requiring 20-30 acres would be built at the site and possibly a second elementaryschool. Athletic fields and recreational facilities could also be placed on the site that is currently owned by the Milwaukee Archdiocese.

Milzer would not comment on what Franklin has offered to purchase but said the land is listed at $4.495 million.

A motion to authorize the school board to purchase the site was approved.

 

 

 

 

Strauss Brands dumps plan to expand in Franklin; mayor says city had a deal

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Last week Strauss Brands announced plans to develop a 170,000-square-foot production facility and its headquarters at Century City in the city of Milwaukee that will have about 250 jobs. Strauss currently has a plant in Franklin.

One can understand the decision of Strauss Brands. It has outgrown their Franklin facility. Milwaukee will sell 20 acres to Strauss for a paltry sum of $1. Milwaukee will also kick in $4.5 million in financing. A new federal program initiated by the Trump administration called Opportunity Zones offers tax breaks for investments in low-income neighborhoods like the one that includes Century City. The Franklin site is not in an Opportunity Zone.

There’s more to this story.

On August 8, about three weeks before the news broke about Strauss expanding in Milwaukee, the private equity firm Insight Equity announced the acquisition of Strauss Brands, a leading producer of ethically raised specialty meats including American grass-fed and organic beef, as well as humanely raised veal and lamb.

“Due to the growth of our grass-fed and organic beef offerings, in addition to our core veal and lamb business, we have simply outgrown our current production facility,” said Randy Strauss, chief executive officer and grandson of company founder Milton Strauss.

The following is critical.

Strauss continued, “The investment by Insight Equity will provide the capital we need to develop a new state-of-the-art processing facility in Franklin, Wisconsin, which has been our home for over 50 years. We are grateful to the leaders of the City of Franklin for their support of this transformative project. Our location provides us with access to a stable base of exceptional employees and is ideally located to provide reliable delivery solutions to our customers via our in-house long-haul perishable trucking division.”

Back in May the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported, “A Strauss Brands affiliate is planning a building, or a ‘series of industrial buildings,’ on 30 acres near the intersection of West Ryan and West Loomis roads, according to a city report.”

So what happened between early August and early September causing Strauss to pull the rug out from under Franklin and dramatically change course?

Strauss Brands chief financial officer Jerry Bussen told the Milwaukee Business Journal that unlike the city of Milwaukee, Franklin had offered no financial incentives.

“At the end of the day, ‘free’ is hard to compete with,” said Franklin Mayor Steve Olson.

There’s more.

“Labor force is a factor,” Bussen said. “Many of our plant employees commute from the (central city) area now (to Franklin).”

“For us it came down to availability of workforce and speed to building,” Bussen said. “It’s important with our growing business that we get the building erected soon.”

“Since 1937, we have proudly operated both in and around Milwaukee,” said Strauss, and “with the support of Mayor Barrett and Milwaukee economic development officials, we are excited to announce our return to the city of Milwaukee, home of our operational roots.”

As for Franklin, Mayor Olson says Strauss Brands filed for a site plan and special-use permit and a public hearing is scheduled for September 19.

“We’re moving forward,” Olson told the Business Journal. “I know we have a deal. We have a signed agreement with Strauss. We’re going to honor our side of this agreement. We expect that they’ll honor it on theirs.”

Sure doesn’t sound like it. Note Strauss’ Bussen said they need to move quickly and I’m guessing they didn’t want to deal with Franklin’s notoriously lengthy economic development process.

Olson says the city is studying possible options to pursue. Could that include litigation?

It’s been reported Strauss could continue running the Franklin plant after the Milwaukee plant opens.

Bottom line: Strauss made a business decision. Milwaukee offered a much better deal. Wishing and hoping Strauss will build in Franklin is probably pie in the sky.

Franklin School Board approves 2019-2020 school property tax levy

The Franklin School Board has adopted the school tax levy for 2019-2020. Board members did so at their Annual Meeting of the Electors last month.

Levies were approved for operating expenses ($29,474,870), debt service ($4,771,306), and community education and recreation ($599,776).

The increase in the overall school property tax levy as compared to last year’s Annual Meeting is 1.6%. For every $100,000 of assessed valuation the increase would be $17.70.

The above could change depending on the exact amount of school aid Franklin would receive from the state of Wisconsin. That information will be released in October.

Last year’s levies approved at the August Annual Meeting: operating expenses ($29,071,039), debt service ($4,652,906), and community education and recreation ($573,276).

 

 

 

Effort to significantly inflate salaries of Franklin School Board members fails

Miserably.

Near the end of the Annual Meeting of the Electors held by the Franklin School Board on August 21 a motion was made by one of the electors (citizens in attendance).  On the table was a proposal to keep the salaries for each school member as they were last year at $4,000.

Alan Aleksandrowicz moved that the salaries go from $4,000 to $5,000. He also moved  that the salary for the school board president, Janet Evans be increased from $4,000 to $6,000. Aleksandrowicz is a former Franklin School Board member.

That’s Aleksandrowicz standing behind the others.

What Aleksandrowicz proposed was an increase of $8,000, a drop in the bucket of the massive Franklin schools budget. But that misses the point.

The $1,000 salary hike for school members was a 25% increase.

The $2,000 salary hike for the school board president was a 50% increase.

School Board President Evans asked twice if there was a second to Aleksandrowicz’s motion and you could hear a pin drop in the meeting room. When no one else supported the motion it failed and rightfully so. What in God’s name was Aleksandrowicz smoking? What a complete lack of common sense.

How many taxpayers in Franklin got a 50% or even 25% jump in pay this year? Praise the Lord this character is no longer on the school board.

Following the failed motion the board voted to keep the board salaries the same as last year.

Coming soon: How the board voted on school property taxes.

A pleasant surprise at the Franklin School Board’s annual business meeting

Recently I blogged about what a farce the annual Franklin School Board Meeting of the Electors is, but also how it’s so poorly attended.

At this year’s meeting there were still a whole bunch of empty seats, but a handful of residents did show, and they came armed with questions. Granted, these were not tough or challenging inquiries by any means. But they did force the board and the administrators to provide answers. Good for those in the audience!

All of the questions were left for the superintendent or the business manager to handle. They did so while each and every school board member sat stone-faced and silent.

I’ll have more on that meeting soon.

Franklin, don’t forget about that new roundabout

It will be functional at 51st and Drexel Tuesday as students head back to Franklin High School. Will things operate smoothly or will it be a hot mess?

Here’s a review of how we got here.

APRIL 2018

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The Franklin Common Council voted 3-3 at its April 17, 2018 meeting to approve financing the design of a roundabout at 51st and Drexel just north of Franklin High School.

Aldermen Steve Taylor, Kristen Wilhelm and Mark Dandrea voted YES. Aldermen Dan Mayer, Mike Barber, and John Nelson voted NO.

Mayor Steve Olson then broke the tie by voting in favor.

The city will now spend $89,933.78 to have the firm R.A. Smith design a one-lane roundabout at the intersection.

The resolution presented to the council at the meeting noted that 51st and Drexel is a heavily congested intersection in Franklin. The Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission (SEWRPC) in its analysis of the intersection determined that a single lane roundabout design is the most appropriate solution for that location.

Prior to the vote some residents spoke in opposition.

One woman said during the citizen comment period the proposed roundabout was  “too close to the high school and fire station.” She asked other residents to attend the meeting to speak out they told her it wouldn’t do any good.

“They don’t listen to us, they already have their minds made up,” she was told.

Another woman voiced concern that accidents would increase at the intersection because of a roundabout.

Mayor Olson said the issue boiled down to leadership.

“You make your decision based on what’s best for the community in the long term.”

Aware that motorists may not know how to maneuver the roundabout, including senior citizens (Claire Meadows Senior Apartments is right down the street on 51st), Olson noted that he recently traveled to Rome, drove through a roundabout there, and he was “just fine.”

Olson continued with a poorly-thought out statement.

“Seniors complain they don’t like roundabouts. Well, how much longer are they going to drive? I’m sorry. It’s a plain fact,” said Olson.

Alderman Steve Taylor argued doing nothing is not an option and that motorists would be able to handle the roundabout.

“I think the residents of Franklin are pretty smart,” said Taylor.

Now that the design services have been approved the issue is just a formality. Next will be the actual construction that is planned to begin after the last day of school for the 2018-19 school year (June 7, 2019) with the project set for completion prior to the start of school that fall (mid-August 2019).

MORE FROM APRIL 2018

I asked Franklin Police Chief Rick Oliva to supply me with data about serious accidents that have occurred at the intersection dating back the past ten years. The chief responded quickly via e-mail.

“We can’t search specifically for the intersection.  We have to search the hundred blocks east-west and north-south of the intersection.”

Chief Oliva continued.

“In the last 10 years there was one personal injury accident in the 5000 block of W. Drexel.  There were 6 property damage only accidents in the hundred blocks E-W and N-S. Since you’re looking for serious accidents, it would only be the one.”I

In August of 2017  the Wisconsin State Journal reported the following that like Oliva’s information blows holes in the contentions of the pro-roundabout crowd:

A study of 30 roundabouts in the state completed by (Andrea) Bill, (a traffic safety engineer at the Wisconsin Traffic Operations and Safety Laboratory at UW-Madison) in 2013 that looked at crashes three years before and four years after they opened showed that 23 had more crashes after they opened.

Overall, there were 572 crashes four years after the 30 roundabouts opened versus 311 during the three years before the intersections were converted. Of those, 464 crashes resulting in property damage occurred after the roundabouts opened versus 194 before they opened. Both periods saw similar numbers of accidents with injuries.

Bill was also quoted that she thinks, she thinks there will be fewer crashes. And that could be. But it hasn’t happened. Au contraire, just the opposite has taken place with roundabouts.

JANUARY 2019

More information was shared about the planned roundabout at 51st and Drexel at the January 8, 2019 meeting of the Franklin Common Council.  Brad Severson spoke to the Council. He’s from R.A. Smith, the engineering consultant for the roundabout design.

Safety

Severson said the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission (SEWRPC) conducted a study in 2017 of the 51st and Drexel intersection. The study looked at the five year period from 2011-2015.

During that time there were 19 crashes in the intersection. That equates to .7 crash per every one million vehicles entering the intersection. Clearly that raises the very legitimate question of whether a roundabout is even necessary.

“That’s not a huge safety issue,” said Severson, but “it’s one certainly worth looking at.”

Half of the crashes were T-bones according to Severson who said that’s unusual at a 4-way stop.

Cost

According to documentation on the city of Franklin website the design project is, not surprisingly, over budget. There is a 60% project estimate that reflects a construction total of $1,034,000. A previous construction estimate was $825,000. Not included in the higher estimate are land acquisition costs that are unknown at this time. Land from all four corners of the intersection must still be acquired.

Severson said reasons for the increased cost include the SEWRPC study is about two years old and the design has to consider the accommodation of larger vehicles.

Listening to the tape of the meeting one doesn’t get the feeling that there’s a sense of urgency about the cost issue. Franklin’s approved 2019 Capital Improvement Fund includes $1-million for the roundabout project.

Intersection delays

If Franklin did nothing at the intersection and simply left it a 4-way stop, Severson told the Council an average delay for a vehicle, from the time it was stopped in line to it finally leaving the intersection would be, on average, 5 ½ minutes which includes the time frame when Franklin High School lets out.

The project is behind schedule. It’s thought the 90% plans will be ready this March and that the bidding process to receive bids will begin this May.

The council voted to direct city staff to begin the land acquisition and bidding processes and also study why costs are higher.