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DOT will pave the way to Forest Exploration Center on Swan in Wauwatosa

The Department of Transportation has agreed to construct a new road to its construction site north of Swan Boulevard, pictured above, which will eventually serve the Forest Exploration Center.

The Department of Transportation has agreed to construct a new road to its construction site north of Swan Boulevard, pictured above, which will eventually serve the Forest Exploration Center.

Aug. 13, 2014

While the University Laboratory School is tied up without an operational agreement, its partners at the Forest Exploration Center are moving on, poised to benefit from an agreement between the state departments of transportation and natural resources.

In an agreement signed Aug. 4, the DOT agreed to build a road, and possibly other improvements, on the DNR-owned property for the Forest Exploration Center north of Swan Boulevard just east of Discovery Parkway. In exchange, the DOT plans to continue using the land as a staging area for construction on the Zoo Interchange through 2018.

"It kind of kickstarts our mission as we won't have to fundraise for doing those infrastructure improvements," said Tom Gaertner, who is on the FEC board of directors.

The non-profit FEC plans to build an extensive trail system on and around the DOT staging site, through 67 acres. It had also submitted a charter for the University Laboratory School, which was aiming to move into the Eschweiler buildings. But as the charter school has not been able to get an operational agreement approved by the Wauwatosa School District, the FEC is continuing with its plans to be an educational center for other schools and visitors.

At a cost of about $290,000, the access road to the FEC will be one lane each way, with a separate multiuse trail, bioswales to catch runoff, and a roundabout where it intersects with Swan. DOT Spokesman Michael Pyritz said construction could be completed this fall.

The DOT would sweeten the deal with other improvements worth up to $300,000, like parking and utilities, if it's able to expand its use of the site. Pyritz said the department hopes a contractor on the Zoo Interchange project will use the site for concrete crushing, saving the DOT money on transporting the materials because of its proximity to the interchange.

As part of the agreement, the contractor will be required to restore the site before leaving and turning it over to the FEC, which will own the facilities while the DNR owns the property.

"We get the benefit of improving a site that's been pretty much stagnant with a lot of ideas, and implementing some really quality educational stewardship components," said Eric Nitschke, DNR director of the southeast region.

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