March 29, 2008

Lights Out: 'Earth Hour' celebrated around the world

Update: Here's how we spent our Lights Out time ... candles and a game of Phase 10 (sorry, Fred).

Original Post:

Reader BP sent over this note about an international event tonight to raise awareness around global warming. It's pretty simple ... just turn off your lights tonight from 8-9 p.m. Here's the note:
Tomorrow millions of people around the world are joining together to make a statement about climate change by turning their lights off for an hour. It's called Earth Hour and I just signed-up to participate, maybe you will be interested in doing it also. Earth Hour is on March 29 from 8 - 9 p.m. local time, and it looks like it's going to be really big. So far 25 cities around the world are taking part, including Atlanta, Chicago, Phoenix and San Francisco in the U.S. Downtown Chicago is turning off the lights, what an amazing sight thought should be!

Sign up for Earth Hour by visiting and join the movement with me.

And remember - Lights Out on March 29!

How will you spend your hour without electricity?

March 28, 2008

Property values -- the have's and the have not's

Our headline on RacinePost said it all:
Racine property value growth
lags Kenosha's and state's
That was based on a short Business Journal story summarizing a report by the Milwaukee Public Policy Forum analyzing the growth in value of residential and commercial property.

The full report -- which you really should read in its entirety -- began like this:
Property values in southeastern Wisconsin counties grew 6% last year, a relatively healthy rate but the slowest since at least 2004, and for some counties, the past decade. Also, proximity to northern Illinois looks to be a key factor in fueling strong growth.

The slowdown in property value growth is not unexpected given the national downturn in property values and the explosive growth rates of recent years. Of significance, however, is that the region grew slower than the state of Wisconsin for the first year since 2002. Overall growth in Wisconsin was 6.2%, compared to the region’s 6%. From 2005‐2006, the region grew by 10.7%, while the state grew by 9.6%.
Rather than summarize the whole thing, I'll just present a few Racine County statistics that caught my eye.

Southeastern Wisconsin consists of 147 municipalities, of which 61 are towns, 57 are villages, and 29 are cities. Guess which one has the least amount of property per capita? No, it wasn't the City of Racine (Gotcha?); we came in next-to-last, 146th, with $50,640 in taxable property per person, down slightly from 2006 when we were 145th with $48,864. Most startling was the disparity between the have's and the have not's. The amount of property per capita in the No. 1 municipality -- the Village of Chenequa in Waukesha County -- is $971,508... 19 times more than Racine. Here's a table showing the richest and poorest among southeastern Wisconsin's communities.

Click on chart to enlarge

Four counties had a per capita property value of over $100,000: Walworth, Waukesha, Ozaukee and Washington. Racine County overall has a per capita property value of $80,260, with the wealthiest communities being the Villages of North Bay ($164,265) and Wind Point ($160,910)and the Town of Yorkville ($144,500), while the poorest behind Racine's $50,640 is the Town of Union Grove ($70,439). A spreadsheet showing every community's per capita value and ranking for this year and last year can be found HERE.

There was at least one bit of good news: Racine County showed its first increase in manufacturing property value since 2003, growing 2.6%, following three years of decreases. From 2005 to 2006, it decreased 1.3%.

A spreadsheet comparing each community's total equalized assessed valuation, with breakdowns of residential, commercial and manufacturing real estate for the year 2007 can be found HERE.

March 27, 2008

City's 12th District candidates spending big

Money is flowing in the race for the City Council's 12th District.

Incumbent Aron Wisneski and challenger Joey LeGath have raised the most money among candidates for city office this spring, according to the March 24 campaign finance reports.

Wisneski, finishing his first term, raised $2,959 year-to-date and has over $2,000 to spend in the closing days of the election. He had the most individual contributions of all candidates, receiving donations from 16 individuals.

LeGath, who owns three bars, raised $6,295 year-to-date and spent $2,562.06 through March 24, leaving him over $3,700 to spend before Tuesday's election. LeGath gave his own campaign $4,000.

Ken Lumpkin has spent $2,278 so far in his race with Jim Kaplan for the council's Fourth District. Kaplan has spent $174.50 so far. Lumpkin and Kaplan are also running for the County Board.

Troy Johnson has spent $1,775 in a race for the Ninth District seat vacated by Pete Karas. His opponent, Terry McCarthy, has spent $223.53. Johnson and Wisneski had several donors in common on their reports.

And, challenger Jameel Ghuari is outspending Bob Anderson in the Second District. Ghuari has raised and spent $791, nearly five times as much as Anderson.

Local candidates are required to file a pre-election campaign finance report with the City Clerk by March 24. Another report is due after the election.

Here's a recap of each candidate's campaign finance report:

District 2
Bob Anderson

Contributions - $200
Expenses - $169.76
Balance - $30.24

Jameel Ghuari

Contributions - $791.67
Expenses - $791.67
Balance - $0
* $30 contribution from Donnie Snow
District 4
Jim Kaplan

Contributions - $418.28
Expenses - $174.50
Balance - $243.78
* $100 contribution from the First District GOP

Ken Lumpkin

Contributions - $2,278
Expenses - $2,278
Balance - $0
* Campaign finance report filed three days late
District 6
Sandy Weidner
* Reported no campaign activity
District 8
Q.A. Shakoor II
* No report filed; expected to file no campaign activity
District 9
Terry McCarthy

Contributions - $300
Expenses - $223.53
Balance - $81.47

Troy Johnson

Contributions - $1,775
Expenses - $317.25
Balance - $1,457.75
* 16 contributions
District 10
Tom Friedel
* Reported no campaign activity
District 12
Aron Wisneski

Contributions - $2,959
Expenses - $893
Balance - $2,066
* Citizens for Helding gave Wisneski $100

Joey LeGath

Contributions - $6,295
Expenses - $2,562.06
Balance - $3,739.94
* $200 from the Wisconsin Peoples Conference
District 14
Ronald Hart
* Reported no campaign activity

Wisconsin second in health care quality rankings

Health care quality, compared to all states
(Black arrow, 2006; blue arrow, 2007)

How's your health?

Hopefully, it's good. You're living in the second-healthiest state, according to rankings by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. (Last year, we were healthiest, but we fell slightly behind Minnesota this year.)

The AHRQ distills statistics from the national Health Care Quality report to measure states' health based on types of care -- preventive measures, acute care measures, chronic care measures; care settings -- hospital, ambulatory, nursing home and home health care measures; and care by specific disease -- cancer, diabetes, heart disease, maternal and child care, and respiratory disease measures.

Although Wisconsin is no longer No. 1, the overall health rating the state received improved year-over year. Wisconsin received 65.76 points in 2006, and 66.04 in 2007.

Specific information and scores for all of the measures cited above can be found HERE, simply by clicking on any of the dashboard icons.

The AHRQ's explanation of its State Snapshots is HERE.

Public Transit Gridlock: The Movie

OK, it lacks the magic of Harry Potter, but a documentary-in-progress about Southeast Wisconsin's public transportation issues is compelling nonetheless.

Film maker Mark Irving points out that Milwaukee (and the area around it, including us) "lags conspicuously behind all other U.S. metropolitan areas in implementing a modern public transit system," contributing to the city's place at the bottom of several several economic, population, employment and development growth lists.

"An accurate representation of how a modern transit system impacts the economy and culture of metropolitan areas needs to be accomplished. This film will serve this mission by introducing compelling characters providing unique historical, professional and personal perspectives on the subject."

The documentary's 15-minute trailer has been completed, and includes interviews with public officials like Tom Barrett, Milwaukee mayor, and John Antaramian, Kenosha mayor, (mostly in favor of something like KRM) and commuters (not so much). Irving hopes to complete his film this sumer.

But why read about it when you can watch for yourself? The trailer is HERE.

Another discussion of regional transportation issues -- comparing our situation to solutions tried by other cities (for example, London's congestion pricing) -- can be found here, on James Rowen's The Political Environment blog, in a post he's titled, Other Communities Work Harder Resolving Thorny Transit Issues.

March 26, 2008

New at First Fridays: Beer garden (and controversy)

First Fridays are about to start, and they come with something new this year:

A beer garden on Monument Square.

And controversy.

The issue is summed up by a First Fridays poster taped to the the window of Common Scents on Main Street: The poster's bottom corner has been neatly trimmed off. The corner that used to say: HarborFest Beer Garden at Monument Square.

The beer garden, to be run by HarborFest (with 25% of the profits going to the Downtown Racine Corporation), was a last-minute addition to the First Fridays activities, which in past years has included extended shopping hours downtown on the first Friday of every month from April through September; music on Sixth Street, Main Street and inside some stores; horse-drawn carriage rides and wine and hors d'oeuvres at some stores.
This year's first First Friday is April 4. Schedule is HERE.
The phone lines between merchants started burning up as soon as the poster was distributed. Before they saw the poster, none of the merchants had any inkling there would be a beer garden this year. Now that they know, some are not happy about it.

The gist of the dispute is this: First Fridays is a family, retail shopping event. Encouraging people to sit and drink beer on Monument Square, they fear, will either drive families away, or at the very least provide something that keeps potential shoppers from wandering around the shops downtown. And it is the shopping that First Fridays was created for: it is an event organized and supported by the retailers themselves, some 43 of whom this year ponied up $200 each to pay for the musicians, posters, horse-drawn carriage and advertising.

Nobody I spoke to objects to HarborFest; a few question why DRC should benefit, since the lion's share of the event's costs are borne by the merchants. But the core objection is that the beer garden will change the focus of the event, and detract from its main purpose: shopping downtown.

As Doug Wick, owner of Common Scents said, "It's moving away from the idea of bringing people to our shops, in favor of getting people more hammered. This steps over into a party event, rather than a retailer event."

Wick, whose father opened a photo studio on Main Street in 1947, and who has operated his own connected trio of shops -- Pack 'n Ship, Common Scents and Wick's Photo Studio -- since 1986, said, "In a nutshell, this takes away from the restaurants and bars, and detracts from the retailers who are the only reason there's a downtown. The little retailer is the blood flow of downtown."

It's not at all about HarborFest, he made clear. "I sympathize with the effort of HarborFest, because it's a great event." (Financial difficulties have cancelled this year's HarborFest, although organizers promise it will be back in 2009.)

For the most part, other retailers I spoke to see the beer garden the same way; a few are reserving judgment and one bar owner didn't see any problem.

Sherry Etes, owner of Uncorkt, is the merchant most in favor of the beer garden. As the one-woman committee handling all the details of this year's First Fridays events it was her decision. "It was never intended to be a drunk fest," she said.

Etes defended both HarborFest ("It's a good cause; it helps out the city, raising money for lots of good events like the Theatre Guild and Jeans Jazz.") and DRC which, she said, "is a huge supporter of First Fridays," paying for radio advertising, mailings and providing the Ambassadors.

She explained that Joe Mooney, president of HarborFest, proposed the beer garden to her and Devin Sutherland, executive director of DRC, "at the last minute. If I thought it would be unsettling, I never would have gone there," she said.

Still, listening to the objections she's heard, she said, "If the beer garden doesn't work, we can cut it off after the first one. Bringing people downtown, that's a good thing. If it's going the wrong way, it will be shut down."

Active, friendly puppy looking for a home

Chaz is a small black and tan miniature pinscher puppy, looking for a home.

He is extremely active, and was surrendered to the Countryside Humane Society when he proved too much for his family. He is outgoing and friendly.

He will need training, socializing, house training and then more training. This is typical for all puppies not just for Chaz. Chaz is friendly and is recommended for a household with children 5 years old and up. He is a delicate, fine-boned dog so will need a home where children are not overly rough with a puppy.

Three of last week's "cleaning supplies" puppies -- dogs named after products found on the cleaning shelf -- are still available for adoption; three others have found families.

Theatre organ concert, and more, at RTG Sunday

Fred Johnson tuning the RTG's Wurlitzer

"Gee, Dad, it's a Wurlitzer!"

That advertising slogan from the '50s will be heard a lot this Sunday, I predict, when the Dairyland Theatre Organ Society cranks up the big Wurlitzer at the Racine Theatre Guild for a three-artist concert.

No offense to musicians Jack Grassel, Jill Jensen and Dean Rosko -- about whom more later -- but the star of the show will be the 80-year-old Wurlitzer, which started life in 1928 at Racine's Capitol Theater.

Tuesday night, the Wurlitzer was getting ready for the concert. Fred Johnson of Kenosha was running the organ through its paces, tuning and testing. Johnson, a machinist at Insinkerator by day, organ tuner and organist by avocation, was one of the Dairyland volunteers who helped remove the organ from the Capitol Theater in the '70s, and then installed the restored instrument into a specially-built space in the back of the auditorium at the Theatre Guild in 1982.

Open the door to the organ's lair -- it's the size of a long, narrow closet -- and squeeze in among the pipes: brass and other metal in the middle, wood box pipes climbing up the walls. (You'll have to squeeze in sideways.)

The organ is a seven-rank instrument, meaning there are seven sets of pipes (anywhere from 61 to 97 notes in each set) with each rank producing the "voice" of a different instrument. There's a Vox Humana (human voice), Tibia Clausa, Concert Flute, Salicional, Salicional Celeste (string), Trumpet and Diapason. Above the organ room and visible from the auditorium, if you look closely, are the organ's percussion instruments: a xylophone, chimes, glockenspiel and all the "toys" needed for silent films' sound effects. The organ is "winded" by a five horsepower turbine blower.

But reading about its specifications, and hearing it up close, are two entirely different experiences. I was still in the cramped pipes room when Johnson, sitting at the little test console in the back of the auditorium, fired it up; LOUD! And beautiful... a more intense sound than a store full of iPods could dream of providing.

Sunday's concert at the Racine Theatre Guild is billed as a "musical trio:" Jack Grassel and Jill Jensen -- she sings and he plays guitar; and organist Dean Rosko. Grassel was named one of the ten best guitarists in the U.S. by Guitar One Magazine; Jensen, his wife, has been named "favorite female vocalist" by the Journal Times' readers' poll. Rosko, organist of the Milwaukee Brewers, also plays at at Milwaukee's Oriental Theatre.

Sunday's concert begins at 7 p.m.; tickets at the box office are $12. Information about the Racine Theatre Guild can be found at its website or by calling 262-633-4218.

The Dairyland Theatre Organ Society was founded in 1969 and owns and maintains the Wurlitzer organ in Milwaukee's Riverside Theatre. Memberships and information about the society's other events can be obtained by writing to DTOS, 1541 Prairie Drive, Racine, WI, 53406.

Lights out on Sixth Street

Update: From a reader...
Thought you should know street lamps were blazing at 11 a.m. all the way from 600 block of Sixth to Main. Maybe some city person read the RacinePost this morning because they were dark at 6 a.m. when I get up. I did not hear back from Public Works though I asked them to acknowledge having received my email.

I hope the lights will be on Sixth and Seventh when it's DARK tonight. Will email you if not.

Times are tough on Downtown's Sixth Street. Mick Burke at The Journal Times wrote a good (and sad) piece on how successful businesses were struggling just a few weeks into the reconstruction project. Business owners seem upset that little is being done to help would-be customers overcome the hassle of a construction zone. Parking is limited, walkways are difficult and even lighting is an issue.

We got this email from a concerned Sixth Street occupant:
For the past three nights the overhead street lamps have been out on both Sixth and Seventh Street from the 600 block to what looks like College or Wisconsin. It is totally black and when I came home last night I was rather nervous. I emailed public works to inform them and to also ask if this has anything to do with the construction and whether the police were patrolling by foot because there are residents here and storefronts etc.
Pete scoped out the lighting situation on Sixth Street Tuesday night. It's pretty bleak:

I remember when Main Street was rebuilt. Business was down, but there was a lot of energy surrounding the excitement of the project. This hasn't carried over to the Sixth Street project, which is unfortunate for some great businesses. Sticky Rice is already moving, and there are rumors of other Sixth Street businesses closing. Let's hope the city and DRC can work out something, and fast, to keep these stores and restaurants going.

March 25, 2008

Ryan: Stop hitting 'snooze' button on Social Security and Medicare reform

A new report out today says the Social Security and Medicare trust funds will run out in 2040, slightly earlier than expected.

Rep. Paul Ryan put out a statement today on the report, saying for the third year in a row something needs to be done to extend the life of these programs. Ryan backed President Bush's plans for health savings accounts as a replacement for Social Security, but that idea never gained traction with the public.

(And, not everyone is saying the new report contained bad news for Social Security.)

Here's Ryan's statement:
WASHINGTON – Wisconsin’s First District Congressman Paul Ryan issued a statement in response to today’s release of the Social Security Trustees’ Annual Report. According to the report, Social Security and Medicare continue to face a mounting, and increasingly urgent, financial crisis that threatens U.S. fiscal and economic stability. The report also issues a third consecutive warning about the amount of funding Medicare is drawing from resources other than its dedicated revenue. In response to the report’s troubling yet unsurprising findings, Congressman Ryan issued the following statement:

“The Social Security and Medicare Trustees today handed Congress a fresh reminder of its historic opportunity to transform these programs before it’s too late.

“Congress has known for years that our largest entitlement programs – particularly Social Security and Medicare – simply cannot survive as currently structured. Without reform, these programs will grow themselves right into extinction, thereby eliminating the retirement security and health safety net for the very people they were designed to serve.

“Congress knows it must act. If we act now, we have the opportunity to reform these programs in a rational, well-thought-out way. We can make them better, stronger, more responsive, more resilient, more sustainable, and more in line with the way our economy really works. There is no reason to wait; each year of delay increases the likelihood that Congress will be forced to make deep cuts in benefits or raise taxes or debt to unsustainable levels.

“The alarm has been sounded – this is the third consecutive Medicare warning. Hitting the snooze button, yet again, is not the right choice. Congress is lucky enough to have yet another major opportunity – in the FY09 Budget Conference Report – to do the right thing. Americans should demand we take it. Because our actions on this issue, or lack thereof, will have an impact on these critical programs – and our nation’s economy – for generations to come.”

Kaboom: Price for cannon bases up to $13,870

The cost is going up to display to Civil War-era cannons on Monument Square.

Donnie Snow, head of the city's parks and recreation department, said this week that bases for the two cannons will cost $13,870 - up from the $10,000 price quoted last week.

The increase comes because planners were comparing the cannons to the ones outside of Memorial Hall. The Civil War cannons are much larger and will require a larger base.

Here's an email from Snow laying out the change:
Ladies and Gentlemen:

The purpose of this email is to keep you informed on the cannon restoration for their eventual return to Monument Square (MS). I appeared before the Finance and Personnel Committee, last evening, Tuesday, March 24th to inform the committee of the cost and alternatives for restoring and returning the cannons to the square.

I am writing to inform you that the cost is higher than I first reported to you in my March 19th email. The cost for each cannon base will cost $6, 935.00 each or $13,870.00 for the two bases, instead of the initial report of $4,700-$4,900.00 each or $10,000 for two. This change is because initially Osterman Granite were basing their price on the cannon bases located at Memorial Hall which are a lot smaller than the ones for the MS. To get the right base size and design for these much larger cannons I took Mr. Osterman to the storage site to see the original cannon bases in proportion to the Memorial Hall. The color will be Mesabi Black with a thermal type diamond 10 finish and will match the seat wall, art pedestals and game board pieces.

The Finance and Personnel Committee did vote to recommend allocation of these funds from the remaining funds in the Monument Square Project account with stipulations that an account be established with the Finance Department to receive donations to recover and replenish this account.

If you have any questions, concerns or suggestions contact me at your convenience.


Henzl's appointment to stadium board moves onward

Apparently we jumped the gun on March 14 when we reported that Robert Henzl had been named to the Miller Park stadium district board by Gov. Jim Doyle. All that was true, of course, but such appointments need to get Senate approval. Baby steps, like the following, are part of the process:
Madison - The Senate Economic Development Committee today voted unanimously to confirm Governor Doyle’s appointment of Robert Henzl of Racine as a member of the Wisconsin Professional Baseball Park District Board.

State Senator John Lehman, who serves on the committee, said he looks forward to working with Mr. Henzl to ensure the stadium is paid off and tax imposed on Racine County is sunset as soon as possible.

A Senate insider tells us that most appointments by the governor are "generally either approved or simply not voted on but nominees have (on rare occasion) been voted down." So this still has to go through the full Senate. Ah, if only the budget had it so easy.

Henzl, from what we hear, is not only president of the Racine law firm Hostak, Henzl & Bichler, S.C., and a Democratic Party contributor, but also a long-time baseball fan. But, of course, all we, his Racine County constituents, want is an end to the odious 0.1% stadium tax, by 2014 at the latest. Not 2017; 2014! Got that?

(The Brewers' first-ever World Series title would be nice, too, if Henzl has any pull with Bud Selig and the gods of Cooperstown.)

RacinePost on the radio Thursday morning

UPDATE: We defer to Greg Berg's scheduling, since it's his show! Listen to us on Thursday morning at 8:11 a.m. (or for the podcast. We'll post a direct link when possible.)

Podcast is HERE.

ORIGINAL POST (updated): RacinePost will be on 91.1 FM WGTD's morning show on Thursday morning. Greg Berg, the show's host, interviewed us about the site, including how it got started and what goes into it on a daily basis. The wonderfully eclectic Morning Show, focusing on regional issues and entertainment, airs daily from 8-9 a.m. on WGTD. We're the first half of Thursday's show.

Here's more about the Morning Show.

Many thanks to Greg for inviting us on!

March 24, 2008

Milwaukee bus ridership holds key to KRM?

Bus fares are up in Milwaukee County; ridership is down -- 9% in one year.

Why should we in Racine care? Because -- along with all the other obstacles in KRM's way (can you say Robin Vos?) -- the success of the Milwaukee County Transit System affects the future of commuter rail between Chicago and Milwaukee.

At least, that's the implication of a story in Monday's Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, comparing the positions on transit of Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker -- a strong supporter KRM -- and his challenger, State Sen. Lena Taylor. The key (to us) sentence is in this paragraph:
"Taylor says she supports KRM and will continue trying to fund it. Walker had previously backed KRM but now says improving and upgrading the bus system must come first. Federal officials have told the RTA that it will be difficult for the KRM to win crucial federal funding until the Milwaukee County bus system's future is more secure."
The rest of the story is HERE, but you've already seen the important part.

Four school board candidates support referendum

Need more information about the candidates in the upcoming RUSD school board election?

The PTA of Jefferson Lighthouse School has surveyed the candidates on a range of issues and made their responses available.

This year's candidate information and responses can be found HERE.

You'll learn which candidate went to Prairie School, and has two daughters at St. Cat's; which has five kids who went through Unified schools; which has no kids but two cats.

And the answers to important questions like: What are the key challenges facing RUSD and what solutions do you propose? And, Do you believe that RUSD is meeting the needs of its students at every level of academic performance? Why or why not? And, In recent years, the school board has spent much time and effort studying redistricting, which also encompasses the issues of neighborhood schools versus desegregation, equity in access, and a possible grade reconfiguration. What are your positions on these subjects?

You'll also learn which four of the six candidates support the April 1 referendum, which does not support it but will vote for it "as the lesser of two evils...barely," and which one ducked the question.

Bringing the cannons back to Monument Square

The Civil War cannon, mounted on a temporary base of 2 x4's, sits about five feet above the concrete floor of Osterman Granite and Marble. It has the full attention of Monte Osterman, who pokes and prods it from end to end, measures it this way and that, taking notes on everything he finds.

It is safe to say he is more familiar with the 145-year-old cannon than anyone else.

He has located its center point, learned that it weighs 3,650 pounds. Measured it at its widest point -- 19 inches; its length -- 113 inches. Taken notes of all the embossed information found here and there: RPP No. 228, the cannon says on its rear end; "1863" on one of its pivot points; a patent date of 1861.

With a flashlight and a metal coat hanger straightened into a grappling hook, he reaches down the cannon's barrel, dragging out a nickel, a penny, a blue glass game piece, a shard of broken glass. Treasure from ... when? One hundred years ago? Three years ago?

The Civil War ended in 1865, but a mini-war swirled around the two cannons removed from Monument Square when it was rebuilt starting in 2005: where should they go? The new Civil War museum under construction in Kenosha? By City Hall? Anywhere but back on Monument Square! After much debate, that question has been resolved -- put them back by the Civil War monument, the City Council finally ruled.

And so, now it's all up to Monte Osterman to design and build granite bases for the two cannons.

City Parks and Recreation Director Donnie Snow, who has to come up with the money to pay for Osterman's work, is also involved; his request to the City Council to allocate the approximately $10,000 necessary should come before the Finance and Personnel Committee today. Private fund-raising is another option, but one that would delay the base construction, and the cannons' return past the hoped-for reinstallation date of Flag Day, June 14.

None of that is Osterman's concern: his charge is strictly a design issue. And so he measures, and draws, and makes recommendations to the city, its architect and to the Downtown Racine Corporation, which contributed $600,000 of Monument Square's $1.4 million rebuilding cost. Osterman's preference is for classic bases made from Mesabi black granite -- despite its name a mottled dark gray stone -- rough textured from a quarry on the Minnesota/Canadian border.

The new bases will match the benches already ordered and due here in May. "The monument itself is of medium Barre granite, from Vermont," Osterman says. "Then there are the bricks and pavers. We didn't want to introduce another color and material."

"The compressive strength" of various stone also came into play. "We've got to make sure it will hold up," he says, noting that the earlier cannon bases were carved from Indiana limestone, a B-grade at that. "It didn't hold up," he says, "in part because of the acidic cleaning materials used over the years."

All told, some 60,000 pounds of granite is coming from the quarry for a dozen benches, game pieces (with chess boards engraved on top), and art pedestals. The smallest piece weighs about 6,000 pounds.

Back story: Osterman's showroom and workshop on Washington Avenue (in the former Belle Dodge building since July 2006) is an airy space, home to incredibly beautiful slabs of granite that he and his workers will trim into unique kitchen counter tops and backsplashes, fireplace hearths, tub surrounds and so on, with computer-controlled diamond-blade saws.

But it is Osterman's background that fascinates: he grew up in Indiana, went to mortuary school, and eventually came to Racine, buying the Kasuboski Funeral Home on Douglas Avenue. As a student he'd worked for a monument company, and so he continued to sell monuments to former classmates. Customers who knew he made granite headstones sometimes asked, "would you do a granite hearth for my fireplace." At first the answer was no, "but then I realized there was not a whole lot of that around, and so I agreed to 'learn by mistake'." Eventually, he sold the funeral home and became a full-time granite and marble craftsman, specializing in custom work.

Osterman and his employees built a lot of their own tooling, and have pioneered the creation of a thin-panel stone product, Soterra, for walls and ceilings. He is the national training center for Surfacing Products International which makes and markets Soterra. Soon Osterman's will become a Kohler showroom.

But his funeral director training is still evident. Creating a kitchen, he says, is similar to the "restorative art" of a funeral. "There are no do-overs, you get one shot at it, one opportunity to create a peaceful environment."

A perfect thought for designing part of Racine's Monument Square.

March 23, 2008

RIC hosts City Council candidate forums

The Racine Interfaith Coalition is hosting two local election forums this week. The forums include:

12th District

Tuesday, March 25, 6-8 p.m.
Lutheran Church of the Resurrection, 322 Ohio St.
Candidates: Aaron Wiseneski and Joseph Legath

4th District

Thursday, March 27, 6-8 p.m.
Greater Mt. Eagle Baptist Church, 929 State St.
Candidates: James Kaplan and Ken Lumpkin

Sierra Club Endorses Local Candidates

The Southeast Gateway Group of the Sierra Club endorsed 14 Candidates for local offices in Racine County. The group queried candidates about their positions on issues of conservation concern including household hazardous waste collections, increased solid waste recycling, reduction of the use of fossil fuels, KRM rail, and preservation of farmaland, green spaces and native places.

The following candidates were endorsed:

Racine County Board
District 2 Gaynell Dyess
District 3 Diane M. Lange
Duistrict 4 James E. Kaplan
District 10 Mary Land
District 15 Kenneth Hall
District 16 Melissa Taylor

Racine City Council
Disttrict 4 James E. Kaplan
District 9 Terrance A. McCarthy
District 12 Aron Wisneski

Town of Norway Board
Supervisor 4 James Marks

Village of Caledonia Board
Trustee 2 Wendy McCalvey
Turstee 4 Gale Morgan

Village of Mount Pleasant Board
Ken Flones
Harry Manning