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Prospects take shape in and around Eschweiler buildings in Wauwatosa

Apartment plan and charter school deal both move forward

Jan. 28, 2014

The Mandel Group hopes to break ground on the proposed apartment complex surrounding the Eschweiler buildings in early July after final design work and hard-cost figures are developed, said Mandel project manager Phillip Aiello.

The company plans to spend $42 million to build half a dozen buildings containing about 192 apartments in a semi-circle around the historic Eschweiler buildings in Innovation Campus.

After an initial planning stage lasting more than two years and involving a myriad players — including the city, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, the Wauwatosa School District, an independent school, and historic preservation and habitat protection groups — just one hurdle remains: a governance agreement between the school district and the University Lab School, a charter school sponsored by the UWM that plans to be housed in the Eschweiler buildings.

A framework

"We are utterly agreed on what kind of agreement we want," said Danny Goldberg, who directs the charter school.

He said the key elements of an agreement with the school district would be built on shared services, and a method to "ascribe and register the enrollment."

School Superintendent Phil Ertl said he agreed with Goldberg's description of the outline of the pact.

"We now have to be able to turn that agreement into something doable and sustainable," Ertl said in an email.

The Wauwatosa School Board had objected to a charter school within the school district, using public money, and not operated by itself.

Ertl and the board viewed it as a possible competitor for students and the funding that accompanies them. City leaders agreed, and, as part of the development agreement with Mandel, required the charter school and the district to come to some kind of agreement that satisfied the district.

A complex deal

The University Lab School is an entity of the Forest Exploration Center, which has proposed using the Eschweilers as a home for its school, an arrangement that city leaders and Mandel view as a way to save the deteriorating buildings from the wrecking ball and putting them to active use. The buildings are controlled by Mandel and would be leased to the school for a dollar a year.

Under a complex agreement, the Forest Exploration Center will have year from Mandel's groundbreaking date to "raise sufficient funds to get out project off the ground," Tom Gaertner, an FEC board member. This means rehabilitating the administration building, stabilizing the other Eschweilers, and opening the school in the fall of 2015.

Gaertner estimated the funding necessary to accomplish this phase at $6 million, made up of a contribution from Mandel of $2.5 million, the sale of tax credits, and fundraising of about $1.8 million.

Mandel is paying for some of the rehab of the administration building, which it will use for a leasing office and common space for apartment residents.

Raising funds

If the school fails to raise the money, the Mandel Group will raze one smaller building, and reduce two others to walled gardens, preserving only the administration building.

Gaertner said the FEC has submitted a number of grant proposals to potential donors. He said donors have showed interest but have first asked if the school had been chartered by the UWM, which it now has accomplished, and if the governance agreement with the school district has been completed.

"We're very close to that," he said.

For Mandel, a key understanding was reached last fall with the Wisconsin Historical Society, which has an interest in the fate of the Eschweilers.

Aiello and Chip Brown, a government assistance specialist at the society, both said that if the FEC fails to raise sufficient funds, a request for proposals will be issued to see if another entity can be drawn to the buildings, before they are brought down.

Aiello said the agreement gave Mandel a degree of certainty that will allow the plan to proceed, assuming the schools reach agreement.

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