October 3, 2009

Art takes center stage during Sixth Street's Art Walk

Carol Klein demonstrated the art of glass bead-making

Sixth Street's Art Walk brought culture from the galleries to the pavement Saturday, with demonstrations, hands-on opportunites and arts and crafts sales.

Although the reconstruction of Sixth isn't done yet -- the two-year process should be completed some time in November -- the street was in better shape than we expected. Much of the new brick sidewalk is done and most of the galleries were accessible. But the real attraction was the tents in the roadway, with crafts and demonstrations, and the two stages with music and performers.

All in all, two major events in one Downtown today.

Sixth Street Art Walk as seen from the top of the Ferris Wheel

Greg Danowski's painting takes shape

Addison James-Perkins, 5, paints a t-shirt as mom watches

Murals were painted at All Saints' booth

Sherry Martin carves with a chainsaw

The Rev. Tony Larsen braved the dunk booth for Cup of Hopes...

Alderman Jeff Coe made sure he got wet (before taking his own turn)

Drizzle barely dampens Party on the Pavement spirit

The welcoming arms of two massive balloon men greeted partygoers at the north end of Main Street and the west end of Sixth as Party on the Pavement took over Downtown Saturday. The brisk wind ensured that they were mostly horizontal, but weather was less of a factor than anticipated, and the party went on as planned -- whew! Yes, there was a little rain about 2:30, but it was more of a drizzle, and it was gone in 20 minutes or so... and did little to disrupt the city's biggest outdoor celebration.

There was music at multiple stages; food of all sorts from booths everywhere -- from sushi to paella to brats and corn on the cob; a huge Ferris Wheel at the intersection of Main and Sixth; dance; a martial arts demonstration; artistry and dunk booths; multiple bounce houses and a petting zoo; charity quilts from First Friday quilters; hands-on art projects for kids and adults ... even a mummy at the Heritage Museum. If you didn't have a good time... well, you must have stayed home. Big mistake.

Even this bear was prepared for a little rain.

Singer Hans Mayer taught kids in his audience how to scream...

...and they learned the lesson quickly.

Three Rotarians showed how polio is conquered, one finger at a time.

Barbara Vallone with charity quilts made from scrap material.

RAM's rummage sale had treasures galore.

What a difference a year makes: A Fiat 500 from CNH's
parent company; last year they brought a Maserati

The Ferris Wheel was busy all afternoon

Here's what Main Street looked like from atop the Ferris Wheel

Drew Stymacks, 8, made a powerful Spiderman

Amanda Billerbeck, 6, kept her corn from a hungry Storm Trooper

Julianna Hoaglund, 2, gets a hug

Hopefully, the worst tragedy of the day: a wayward balloon

Osterman Granite's climbing wall was a challenge

Petting zoo's llamas were insistent: Feed me!

Keaira Bridges, 13, demonstrates her martial arts skill

Performers from the Academy of Dance

Singers from the Penguin Players entertained as well

Notes from a Party (on the Pavement) ...

Great party!

That's all that really needs to be said for Downtown Racine's annual Party on the Pavement, which drew thousands of people to Main and Sixth streets Saturday to shop, eat, drink, play games and take part in dozens of other activities.

But our favorite part was just walking up and down the streets running into people we knew. Along the way we picked up a few interesting tips and took in some cool things. In no particular order ...

Come to Racine, Mr. Crepe Maker!

* Our favorite food of the day came from a small crepe stand near Uncorkt on Main Street. We ordered two tasty crepes (one with nutella and one raspberry) and talked briefly with the owner. He grew up in Paris and now lives in Milwaukee, where he runs his crepe food stand at local festivals and events. Here's the cool news: He's thinking about opening a restaurant in the former Red Onion cafe next door to Uncorkt.

* We saw Dave Blank, head of the Racine County Convention and Visitors Bureau, who had some cool news for next summer. Jet-ski races are coming to Racine in June. The professional circuit features racers going 60 mph around a water oval and also maneuvering through a figure-eight course. It's a great get for Racine, because the races draw between 20,000 and 120,000 people at other events. There's a few more big announcements coming out about the triathlon and other events ... things are going well on drawing people into the city.

Even dogs were enjoying the corn on the cob booths were selling on Main St.

* The new Gary's Music on Sixth Street looks great. When we walked in we asked the employees how long they'd been there. "About 4 hours," was the response. The new store just opened Saturday.

* We heard some bad news on Sixth Street. Blueberries, the nice little breakfast place in the former Century Market Building, isn't reopening. They had a big rummage sale Saturday to sell off a bunch of stuff. Also, a main stay of Sixth Street is close to shutting down, we're told. We'll leave out names, for now, but it just seems the business never really took off.

Nick Cibrario signs copies of his book, "Secrets on the Family Farm" at Martha Merrell's bookstore.

* There was a lot of good news on Sixth Street. First, the street is done and looks terrific. There's a little more work to do on the brick sidewalks, but otherwise the street is all but reopened. That's spurred some interest in vacant storefronts, we're told. Three new bars or restaurants are looking at opening on the west end of the street.

* One that's definitely opening is the Raytown Roadhouse, which drew crowds Saturday by running its mechanical bull. We got a tour of the country-themed saloon, restaurant and music hall. It's an impressive undertaking and the owners are hoping for a big draw right out of the gate. They're planning to open Friday with a grand opening on Oct. 17.

* Keith Fair's Tango Bar is up and running on Sixth Street. It looked packed Saturday.

Spectrum's Denise Zingg had passersby contribute to a "Racine Mandala."

* Denise Zingg, founder and director of the Spectrum Art Gallery at the DeKoven Center, had a booth on Sixth Street. Spectrum's 30th anniversary is coming up this June, and that's due entirely to Zingg's hard work and talent over the last three decades. She's done an amazing job.

* Alderman Jeff Coe was in good spirits sitting in a dunk tank on Sixth Street. On such a cold day, we hope that was warm water in the tank.

* And some odds & ends: The Over Our Head Players are planning a dinner theater show this fall. We're getting details for this first-time event. ... The Red Onion had something called the "six degrees of bacon," which was basically bacon on everything ... Mary at Copacetic had a nice selection of winter hats out, so stop by for your seasonal headwear needs ... The Katie Todd Band sounded great on the Monument Square stage.

Having fun with the cutouts on Main St.

October 2, 2009

Anti-Lehman PAC fined $500; 'pathetic' wrist slap?

A political organization fined $5.2 million by Ohio in 2008 for "laundering" contributions was fined $500 today by Wisconsin, for a mailing it made here opposing John Lehman's bid for the state Senate in 2006.

All Children Matter, a state PAC, sent a mailing with the statement, "There are over $12 BILLION reasons to vote against John Lehman" before becoming a registered committee in Wisconsin. The money it used for the mailing came from a Milwaukee corporation, Alliance for Choices in Education, via a Virginia PAC, also illegal.

The settlement agreement between All Children Matter and the state Government Accountability Board is here.

One Wisconsin Now calls the settlement a "pathetic" wrist slap.

October 1, 2009

Rotary Clubs seek high school foreign exchange students

The three Racine Area Rotary Clubs are looking for high school students who would like to spend 11 months overseas as a Rotary International High School Exchange Student.

This would mean spending 11 months in any one of more than 30 countries around the world. The student would live with a Rotary family while overseas. The hosting foreign Rotary Clubs will provide the student with all school tuition and $75 per month in spending money.

The student will pay for roundtrip airfare, additional spending money, fees for three orientation meetings, and health insurance while overseas. The student must be a current high school student.

The student should have an outgoing personality and exhibit adaptability. Students who wish to apply, and their parent(s), will be interviewed to determine eligibility for the program. No money is required at time of application. To obtain more information contact Timothy P. Crawford at (262) 886-1636. An orientation meeting will be held October 6.

Happy Birthday, to us

Oh, the damnable irony!

Here we were, about to remind all of you that today is our second birthday... and what must we confront but some kind of outage at our service provider, rendering our front page, www.racinepost.com, unavailable for most of this afternoon.

Ah, well, it'll get fixed. In the meantime, have a virtual drink, or a piece of virtual birthday cake with us. Since our start on Oct. 1, 2007, RacinePost has served up 2,336 blog posts, 1,006 Kiosk posts, 1,058 Racine obituaries and too many local photos to count. And we've provided a home for a gazillion comments, many of them actually respectful, interesting and on-topic.

Readership has grown to over 7,000 unique visitors per month.

We thank you for your continued participation.

Johnson family's net worth falls 13 percent, but they're still among richest Americans

The Johnson family's net worth fell 13 percent in the last year, but the late Sam Johnson's wife and children remain among the richest Americans, according to Forbes magazine.

Imogene Johnson, Fisk Johnson , Curtis Johnson, Helen Johnson Leipold and Winnie Johnson-Marquardt all have personal fortunes of $1.95 billion, Forbes reported. The amounts ranked 183rd in the United States.

The Johnson family members are among the richest 400 people in the world.

You can access Forbes' coverage of American billionaires here.

Rain won't postpone Party on the Pavement

Somebody at DRC must be watching the Weather Channel, and not liking what they see.

That 40% chance of showers Saturday, for example, could make things miserable for musicians on the outdoor stages during Party on the Pavement.

But, DRC tells us, the show will go on -- regardless! Here's the memo:
The Downtown Racine Corporation has announced that Downtown Racine’s seventh annual Party on the Pavement event will be held this Saturday, Oct. 3, rain or shine! The family-friendly street festival goes from noon to 7 p.m. on Main and 6th Streets in Downtown Racine.

There will be live entertainment, food and refreshments, pony rides, petting zoo, Ferris Wheel, train ride, bouncy houses, face painting, clowns, children’s activities, an Art Walk on 6th Street, exhibits and more. There will be events both outside and inside the stores, galleries and restaurants.

September 30, 2009

West Racine turns out to debate future development

Tom Tousis takes questions about his proposed development from the crowd
Wednesday night at Gethsamane Lutheran Church in West Racine.

Plans to build a grocery store, restaurant, bank and gas station got a boost Wednesday night during a raucous neighborhood meeting at Gethsamane Lutheran Church.

About 175 people turned out to discuss the vacant lot at the corner of Washington Avenue and West Boulevard. The majority backed Tom Tousis's $5 million proposal and dominated the spoken comments during the two-hour forum. Only two people spoke against Tousis's plan.

Written comments taken during the hearing suggested a stronger opposition. Of the more than 100 comments collected, 47 supported a gas station on the site and 28 opposed a gas station. Another 22 comments generally spoke in favor of Tousis's proposal, but made no mention of a gas station. Six comments addressed other issues.

The hearing turned heated as it focused on Tousis's proposal. It started out as a general discussion of restrictions and recommendations a citizen's group in West Racine put together for the vacant lot, which is located in the 3100-block of Washington Blvd. But conversation turned almost immediately to Tousis's proposal, which is the only active proposal for the site.
About 175 people attended the public hearing about the vacant lot at the corner of
Washington Avenue and West Boulevard in West Racine.

Supporters rallied around Tousis's plans to building businesses that would created 50 jobs on the site, plus construction jobs to build the 25,000-square-foot project. They also noted the project would generate tax revenue to pay back loans the city took out to demolish the buildings leased out to a check cashing business, a cigarette store, Western store and tatoo parlor

But Dick Hinsman, who owns a building next to the site, said he opposed the project because it would cut into his building's property value. He later said Tousis approached him about what could be done to make the project more acceptable. Hinsman's response: "Nothing."

"That's my story and I'm sticking to it," Hinsman said.

Alderman Jim Spangenberg also spoke against the project, but mostly defended himself from what he described as attacks on his business and his family. When he was finished, a woman yelled out: "Why are you acting so unprofessional?" Spangenberg didn't respond, though a woman sitting near him answered: "What was unprofessional?"
Alderman Jim Spangenberg spoke against a proposed gas station on the site.

Toward the end, the meeting gave up an sense of being about a draft list of recommendations that will be presented to the city's Redevelopment Authority next Wednesday. Instead, audience members asked Tousis questions about his project. A few bits of new information emerged:

* Tousis's proposed sit-down restaurant will be open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
* He's planning to study the ground beneath the proposed grocery store to determine if a basement is possible on the site.
* Tousis said video gambling was not part of his business plan.
* The proposal will preserve the Farmer's Market. Tousis plans to sell produce bought at the Farmer's Market.

The hearing also revealed another developed had looked at the site about a month ago, but they pulled out of consideration after discovering three unbuildable utility easements on the site. The developer was interested in building a "Gooseberries" grocery store.
City Development Director Brian O'Connell watched the hearing from the balcony.
Here he's answering a question from the audience.

That leaves Tousis's proposal as the only one up for consideration. It'll also appear before the RDA on Oct. 7, the project's first step in winning city approval to begin construction. It's an important meeting because the RTA - which is run by appointed volunteers - owns the vacant lot in West Racine and needs to agree to any development.

It's unclear how the RTA's vote will go. Members Pete Karas and Scott Terry are likely to vote with Tousis, while Spangenberg will vote against. That leaves Rep. Cory Mason, who could be swayed by Tousis's signed deal to use local union workers to build the project, along with RTA Chairman John Crimmings and commission members David Lange and Robert Ledvina to settle the issue.

Mayor John Dickert said in an interview this week he was looking forward to reviewing the details of Tousis's project to cut through hurt feelings. He added there's a practical aspect to the proposal.

"We need to take the emotion out of it," he said, noting any new development helps the city's tax base. "My job is not to get emotional. It's to benefit the taxpayers in this city."

"Are there any other developers looking at that site?" Dickert added.

County Board Supervisor Van Wangaard spoke in favor of Tousis's proposal, including the gas station.

Tim Casey, the Realtor in charge of the property, answered that question during Wednesday night's meeting. While others have looked at the land in recent months, no one other than Tousis had been interested enough to submit plans for city review.

Aldermen Greg Helding, Terry McCarthy, Aron Wisneski and Spangenberg attended the Wednesday night meeting, which was moderated by Rev. Al Guetzlaff. City Development Director Brian O'Connell was also in attendance.

Keith Deschler asks Alderman Aron Wisneski a question.

About 105 people left comments on their preferred use of the West Racine site.

Gateway erects wind turbine at CATI

Gateway Technical College erected a windmill Wednesday.

Well, the correct terminology is "vertical axis wind power appliance – a Mariah Power Windspire," and it was installed at CATI, the Center for Advanced Technology and Innovation in Sturtevant. The Windspire will become a learning tool for students, as well as a way for the college to reduce the amount of electricity it buys. It cost $9,390.

The 30-foot wind vertical wind turbine was erected to the north of CATI, 2320 Renaissance Blvd., and will be used to demonstrate the capabilities of energy monitoring and management. Instructors and students will use computer software to monitor the unit, which has applications in some engineering programs, and will also serve as a test station for Gateway’s wind torque program. The turbine will generate an estimated 2,550 kilowatt hours annually, based on the region's estimated wind speeds.

“Gateway is committed to link training programs with ‘green’ technologies,” said Gateway president Bryan Albrecht. “Wind training and energy management are areas the Windspire will add real-world experiences for our students."

The Windspire generates electricity with vertical airfoils which rotate around a center shaft. The vertical design allows it to operate silently in changing wind speeds and directions.

At left, Sam Hampton and Josh Strueding of Electrical Systems and Services, Sturtevant, installing the wind turbine.

HALO has a new executive director

For the first time since its founding in 2005, HALO has a new executive director.

Kevin Cookman has been hired to replace Cheryl Buckley, who came out of retirement as a YMCA director to head the Homeless Assistance Leadership Organization since its beginning. He will take office on Oct. 19.

Cookman, 47, admits he is an "unusual" choice for the position. His training is as an electrical engineer, and although he's been in Racine for the past three years, before that he spent 14 years overseas, while his wife, Noel, worked as a manufacturing and supply chain executive for SC Johnson in China, Japan and London.

During that time, Cookman started a computer company in China and worked on projects for big companies; for example, overseeing the creation of a new ticketing website for the Italian airline Alitalia, from their base in London. "I ran the contractors, oversaw the program managers, supervised a couple hundred people," he said.

So how does one go from that to HALO? you might ask. Like this: "While we were in London, we adopted two children from the Ukraine, a son in 2002 and a daughter in 2005. And during that process we learned that many do not get adopted." Those kids are called "graduated orphans," and they are set out on their own from the orphanages at age 16, or maybe 18, regardless of their readiness.

Cookman started a charity called "A Full Life," to create transition homes and to provide individualized programs to help them. HALO does pretty much the same thing for its residents. "In some of the worst countries, the kids might run away at 12," Cookman says. A Full Life is working with challenged teens in Asia, 20 or 30 so far. "We started with small numbers, providing them a place and a program. Most of these places are in agricultural economies, so we teach them farming, animal husbandry, beekeeping. In Tashkent there's a rice cleaning mill. We're also starting one in Kurgistan."

Cookman's work has been on a volunteer basis, "to get it going." Mission trips taking people from the U.S. or the UK to Central Asia. Last Spring he took a group of child development specialists and Rotarians. "We want to get girls with babies off the streets; we built a security wall around the place where we'd have the girls.

"And as I got to the point where I'm just doing mission trips, getting staff working in local countries, one of the things as founder that you want to do is step back. I don't want to go back to engineering; this is much more satisfying. And then I saw that HALO was looking for an executive director..."

While in Racine, Cookman had already worked with HALO, through his church, Evangelical United Methodist, taking volunteers to the shelter to provide services. "I know the staff and their program," he said.

"I was the unusual candidate. I'll bring some weaknesses; I'm not used to dealing with all the U.S. grants. But the individual success plans are similar to what we've been doing, and I want to find ways to make HALO more financially self-sustaining so we don't have to rely on getting government grants, or depending upon the United Way. That will be one of my main pushes in the beginning, to help HALO as an organization be able to sustain itself."

EcoGeeks.com opens first retail factory store

Pacific Sands will open its factory outlet store, EcoGeeks.com, on Thursday, Oct. 1, at 1509 Rapids Drive.

Launched in the fall of 2008, www.EcoGeeks.com is Pacific Sands’ internet retail outlet where it sells its pool and spa products and cleaning, laundry and janitorial products direct to the consumer.

The EcoGeeks.com factory outlet store is the brainchild of Pacific Sands’ employee Jolene Kent, a graduate of the REAL School and Gateway Technical College. Kent started at Pacific Sands last fall as a chemistry intern and worked her way into sales support. She took the initiative to plan and manage the opening of the store on her own in her spare time.

Kent took over a small space near the entrance to the Rapids Business Center where the company has its manufacturing facility, and set up a little storefront featuring the company’s products. She even designed and painted the signs that hang on the building and the store’s marketing and promotional materials. The store will be open weekdays from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

“I’m very impressed with Jolene’s initiative and dedication,” said Pacific Sands President and CEO, Michael L. Wynhoff. “This is exactly the type of ambitious pursuit that really makes an employee stand out among their peers.”

Pacific Sands specializes in the development, manufacture and marketing of nontoxic, earth, health, pet and kid-friendly alternatives for household, janitorial, laundry and pool and spa water management, under the brand names ecoone, Natural Choices and Oxy Bost. Pacific Sands is publicly traded under the stock ticker: PFSD.

SC Johnson launches social media website

There's FaceBook, MySpace and now ... SC Johnson.com.

The Racine-based company has a new website with a strong social media component to it. Here's the company's description:
The revamped site offers consumers information on a variety of topics that are
relevant and important to today's families. The site includes interactive tools
like blogs and Q&A areas, global brand information and coupons and special
offers. Consumers can also get tips on a broad range of topics like organizing
family finances or how to make greener choices in the home or they can share
their own.
Kelly Semrau, Vice President Global Public Affairs and Communication for SC Johnson, said the website will help families acquire and share information.

"With so many parents connecting and building relationships, the revamped site is a way to bring a little bit of our family to yours," Semrau said.

Among the sections on the new site include:

In My Family: A space for families to share their stories and answer questions including, "What was the best advice you ever got from a family member?"

Family Economics: A finance blog that helps families navigate the difficult economy with sections about home care, food and cooking, saving money and getting organized.

Family Matters: A blog written by SC Johnson CEO Fisk Johnson. (Read his first post here.)

Doing Our Part: See what SC Johnson is doing to improve the quality of life around the world from building wind-powered plants in Holland to fighting dengue fever in Indonesia.

Doing Your Part: Tips to help families make little changes in their homes and communities that amount to a big difference.

Coupons: Find coupons and other money-saving offers for SC Johnson products. (Right now they're offering a $5 rebate if you send in proof of purchase of three SCJ products.)

Home Matters Q&A: Advice from SC Johnson experts about home cleaning, storage, air care, pest control and more.

'Building on success': Mayor seeks millions for clean beaches center

Zumba is just one of many activities attracted to North Beach in recent years.

Mayor John Dickert is pursuing a multi-million dollar water research laboratory that will build on Julie Kinzelman's work in cleaning up Racine's beaches.

The new clean beaches center would give Kinzelman a $2 million to $3 million laboratory and training facility for her work, Dickert said. He hopes the city can build the facility entirely with federal money. The federal government has committed $5 billion to the Great Lakes and recently released $475 million for clean water programs. Dickert, a former lobbyist, is traveling to Washington D.C. in October to fight for the money. (He has a location in mind for the center, but declined to say where because the city doesn't own the land.)

Dickert said he's pursuing the consortium for two reasons:

1. To keep Kinzelman happy. She's traveling to Ireland soon to lead a seminar on clean beaches (just her latest international presentation) and is well-known throughout the Great Lakes region for her ground-breaking work. Many other cities and organizations would love to lure her away from Racine. Dickert said he won't let that happen.

2. It's a chance for Racine to "build on its success," Dickert said. Clean freshwater is poised to become a major industry and Racine's location on Lake Michigan creates a great opportunity to become a leader in that industry, Dickert said. A laboratory focusing on Kinzelman's work would be a good start, he said. Dickert noted Kinzelman is traveling to Ireland in a few weeks to lead a seminar on beach sciences. If Racine had a world-class facility, it could bring scientists from around the world into the city.

Kinzelman at North Beach

"This might be the way to keep her," Dickert said of Kinzelman. "She deserves her own center."

On a wider scale, Dickert said a clean beaches center would be an example of the city building on its strengths. Racine, thanks to Kinzelman, is already an international leader on cleaning up beaches. Now, it needs to turn that work into opportunities.

"She's the best in the world. Why wouldn't I build on that?" Dickert said.

Kinzelman, who works in the city's Health Department, would use the new building to continue research on cleaning up beaches and to train interns and water quality scientists from around the world on water quality issues, Dickert said.

It's a natural extension of Kinzelman's world-renown work. She's considered an international expert in cleaning up beaches, with Racine's beaches as the best example of her work. Racine's North and Zoo beaches didn't closed this summer because of poor water quality, which is a major change from 10 years ago when the beaches were frequently closed by high bacteria counts. It's also far better performance than beaches in Milwaukee and Kenosha have shown in recent years.

Kinzelman is a leader in the use of "fast-track" testing methods that return water-quality results in as little as four hours. Previous tests, which took three days, did little to determine if beach water was safe for swimming because they returned results after the fact. Long lag times meant beaches were open when water was a health risk and potentially closed when the water was clear.

She also helped clean Racine's beach water by working with other departments to groom sand differently, to clean up water runoff, to ban dogs and feeding seagulls at the beach and to plant native grasses that help clean up water runoff. The result: Racine's beach water was so clean this summer it qualified as drinking water.

Racine's clean beaches has had a significant economic impact. Pro volleyball and an elite triathlon came to the city because of its beaches. The North Beach Oasis has also thrived and a few small businesses renting recreational water and beach equipment cropped up this year.

With water an increasingly valuable commodity, Kinzelman's research may be Racine's best shot at creating a high-tech industry and attracting new jobs and businesses.

September 29, 2009

Village Hall pricetag upsets Mt. Pleasant taxpayers;
Board, committee put decision off for a week

Taxpayer gives the village board a tongue-lashing

Matt Wolfert put the issue very simply last night: "You're getting a $15 million building for $5 million."

Um... not so fast, Mr. Architect!

The Mt. Pleasant taxpayers who showed up to watch the Village Board choose between their architects' three options -- a 75,000 sq. ft. village hall/police station/community and court complex costing $15.5 million, a scaled back 65,000 sq. ft. version costing $13.1 million or a 50,000 sq. ft. version costing $10.5 million -- had another idea...or two:

Spend no more than the $10 million donated to the village for the project. Oh, and what about the Public Works Department; why isn't space for them included in this project? And what about the village's rule that any project costing more than $10 million has to go before a referendum?

Taxpayer after taxpayer stood up at the joint meeting of the Village Board and the Building Committee -- a meeting ostensibly called to set a budget so the architects can design the complex, so it can be put out to bid while contractors are hungry for work (and presumably willing to work cheap), so -- ultimately -- the village can break ground in March and vacate its existing municipal complex by February 2011 as its sales contract with Pick 'n Save requires.

Citizens weren't buying. Ultimately, Village President Carolyn Milkie bowed to will of taxpayers present and put off the decision until the board and committee meet again, next Monday at 6 p.m. Getting to that point was often heated, as the board engaged in a dialogue with many of the 40 or so citizens who filled the meeting room. They sat attentively as Wolfert, and Stephen Kuhnen of Bray Associates Architects, showed two concept drawings of the project, which will be built on land the village bought along 90th Street: one a one-story building and the other two-stories. In both versions, the village hall and police station flank community space in the middle.

Site plan for 75,000 sq. ft., one-story village hall concept

"These are just space concepts," Kuhnen explained. "We need budget parameters in place, so we can get our hands around how big this project will be." The $15.5 million plan included a 14,387 sq. ft. village hall, 47,164 sq. ft. police station and 13,914 sq. ft. shared space with courtroom. (The present village hall has 9,000 sq. ft; the current police station has 12,000 sq. ft.) Architects suggested a "geothermal" heating and cooling system -- "higher initial cost but lower operating cost with energy efficiencies. But the niceties of design didn't concern the audience. Rather, they were focused on cost ... and whether the village's population growth required anything nearly as big, as expensive, as is being considered. They weren't at all shy about lecturing the board.

"I'm ashamed of our supervisors," said Maynard Olson. "You should be ashamed of yourselves." His point was that the board "was not honoring" the $10 million gift it received for the new village hall, by spending more than was given. "We're in a recession, and there are a lot of people in a depression."

Robert Strausser said the project is "very irresponsible," especially in a time when the village has a hiring freeze and not enough firemen. "Our services stink," he said, adding that once the new complex is built "are we going to hire more people? Will we have an increased levy, an increased mill rate, increased fees?"

Tom Meltzer called the project "a grandiose plan. We can do things incrementally. There'll be a wallowing economy for many years to come."

Dave Chorbajian said, "The Highway Department has to be included, because you're eliminating it when you close this building." He also said the village's timeline "is oppressive. You should have involved us sooner."

Seetha Denzien spoke about the "fantastic" $10 million gift. "We should not look down our noses at it; we should live within that gift, just as I have to live within my budget. We're asking that you stay within that gift."

Each of these comments -- and others along the same lines -- was met with applause from the audience, even as members of the building committee tried to defend the complex. Trustee Joe Clementi insisted that replacement of the village hall complex "is beyond necessary" and has been debated for 15 years. He spoke in favor of the 75,000 sq. ft. version -- arrived at after consultation with village employees -- but audience members responded with comments like "crazy," "it's too expensive," and "go back to the drawing board." Said Eleanor Boyd: "You've had your listening sessions, but you don't listen. We need more taxes like we need another hole in the head."

"It really looks huge," said Mike Denzien, who said the size was determined by staff "doing their wishlists."

Clementi, however, said "there's no question the existing facilities are beyond out-dated" and "we can do this without raising taxes." He toted up $17 million available: the $10 million gift, the $4.5 million sale price of the existing village hall complex and $2-$3 million in interest ... but those figures were disputed; all but $400,000 of the sales price is committed to a road project, for example, and the interest figure appears inflated as well.

Trustee Karen Albeck supported those in the audience who want to limit the project's cost. "I'd like to see us live within our budget, and not levy any new taxes," she said. And it was Trustee Sonny Havn who first suggested the board and building committee take some more time, "not too much more," to look again at how much space the village needs -- and how much it wants to spend.

Many in the audience said they plan to attend next week's meeting as well, and also questioned the legal opinion of village attorney John Shannon that no referendum is required. Village ordinances require one -- advisory, though it would be -- for any project costing more than $10 million. But Shannon's opinion, read by Milkie at the start of last night's meeting, says that a vote is only needed when more than $10 million of village funds are being spent -- and since this project is partially financed by that $10 million gift, well, it doesn't fall over that figure. It's a fine point that some hope to challenge.