School gets option to lease Eschweilers in Wauwatosa
Success of plan depends on funding
The Board of Directors of the Forest Exploration Center last week agreed to sign an option to lease the historic Eschweiler buildings from the University of Wisconsin Real Estate Foundation to create a new charter science, technology and engineering middle and high school.
The Forest Exploration Center also announced plans to launch a capital campaign to create the school and renovate the Eschweiler buildings.
"This is an economically viable project that will inhabit the treasured Eschweiler Buildings and create a STEM school modeled after High Tech High in San Diego," John Gee, executive director of the Forest Exploration Center, said in a statement.
"With close ties to the UWM College of Engineering and Applied Sciences and proximity to the Forest Exploration Center's 60-acre forest, the school's location will create the perfect environment for science and technology learning."
Gee first announced his intention to lease the buildings in late January, and said a fundraising effort would be forthcoming. Observers and board members of the school have said the plan depends on raising the money.
Wauwatosa City Attorney Alan Kesner said last month that while there's been a lot of planning, the process of taking over the buildings will start with a successful campaign.
In a story last week, Journal Sentinel reporter Tom Daykin said the option gives the school a year to raise $8 million toward the restoration of the Eschweilers. Total costs for restoring all the buildings, or even restoring just one and demolishing the others, are in the tens of millions of dollars.
The school's option is for a lease of the four Eschweiler buildings located on 8.5 acres of land formerly part of the County Grounds. The lease itself would call for payment of a nominal fee, David Gilbert, president of the foundation, has said. The foundation owns Innovation Campus and the Eschweilers.
The Eschweiler buildings are listed on the National Register of Historic Places and are also designated as local landmarks. The school, as well as related community education programs, will be housed in all four buildings.
A collaborative effort
The Mandel Group, a developer chosen by the foundation, intends to proceed with plans to build new apartments on the land around the Eschweiler buildings.
"UWM, Mandel Group and the city of Wauwatosa have all expressed support for the project and are collaborating with us to make it successful," Gee said.
A campaign cabinet is being formed of both charter school and community leaders to begin the planning process to raise private funds for the project. Additional funding will come from federal and state historic tax credits and low interest loans.
"This project will create an important community asset for the entire region," Gilbert said in a statement. "The school will encourage more young people to pursue science and technology education, which is critical to building the workforce of the future. It is a perfect complement to our vision for making the Innovation Campus a driving force for education and economic development."
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