Walking gingerly across a swath of ice, Jerry Schuetz kept his hands out for balance and slid toward a fence to unlock the gate to Milton’s football and track stadium.
Inside the gate, Schuetz, the Milton School District’s communications supervisor, pointed out areas of the stadium due for an upgrade. The most pressing need, a new track, lay covered by a thin layer of nearly melted snow.
The site could be part of the district’s next push for new facilities.
Milton’s athletic spaces came to the forefront of district consciousness at a recent school board meeting. A lengthy presentation outlined building deficiencies for a number of sports, most notably swimming and track and field.
The district already has a cost estimate for a football stadium renovation—$4.5 million.
That package would expand the six-lane track to eight lanes; add disabled-access bleachers, restrooms and concession stands; and update adjacent tennis courts and track amenities for events such as pole vault and discus, District Administrator Tim Schigur said.
The track is unusable and won’t be ready for the spring season. Milton is planning to resurface it for fall, a short-term fix that would cost $125,000.
A track team without a running track might not be Milton’s only sport without a minimal home. Next month, the district’s insurance carrier will evaluate the swimming pool and could mandate its closure.
The pool is losing more water than normal, though Milton has not confirmed whether it’s leaking. The pool’s deck is sinking, and that’s the issue that could force it to shut down, Schigur said.
Fixing the pool could cost between $500,000 and $900,000, he said.
The recent school board presentation was the first significant public discussion of facilities since the $69.9 million referendum failed in November. Focusing on athletics shifted the conversation from adding new classrooms to alleviating crowding.
But the change, coupled with the condition of some athletic facilities, left critics wondering how some areas fell into disrepair.
District officials maintain they’ve made athletics part of the facilities discussion for years. Each of the recent referendums—an $87 million proposal in 2016 and the $69.9 million idea last year—would have fixed the pool and built a new gym to increase interior athletic space.
But not everything included in the recent school board presentation, most notably a renovated stadium, would have been addressed in the referendums, Schigur said.
Sounding the alarm about cracked tennis courts, for example, would have only confused voters if the project wasn’t part of the referendum, he said.
Back at square one in an ongoing, years-long facilities debate, Milton decided it was time to revisit athletic needs left out of previous packages.
“The point was to remind the board that these topics shouldn’t be forgotten in those conversations,” Schigur said. “We need to find a balance because there’s needs in a lot of different areas. We just don’t want these spaces to not be included in the conversation.
“They aren’t worth less than the other spaces we’re talking about—the STEM wings, the art rooms, the hallways. We don’t want to focus on it, but to not talk about it is unfair and not good for programming.”
The school board presentation grew heated, with board member Brian Kvapil questioning why the district didn’t prioritize some of the most urgent athletic projects earlier.
Saying his words did not reflect the opinion of the full board, Kvapil later told The Gazette he was “annoyed” and “caught off guard” by the presentation’s content and timing, even though it was listed on the agenda.
“Obviously, some of these things have been going on for quite some time,” Kvapil said. “I was pretty upset as far as not having a track that track athletes could practice on. It’s one thing if you’re trying to get something grander and something nicer, but it’s totally different when you don’t have anything.”
He blamed the administration for failing to allocate enough money for athletic facilities. He said the building and grounds staff did what it could with the budget it had.
Building and grounds supervisor Stephen Schantz said the district had enough money only for maintenance and small fixes, not significant upgrades. Milton increased its annual facilities budget to $450,000 in the 2014-15 school year, up from $350,000.
That’s only enough to replace roofs or make other small fixes, he said.
“The problem is we have 660,000 square feet of building that’s almost 50 to 60 years old. With the amount of money I have to work with, I work more on a reactive basis than a preventative basis,” Schantz said. “I don’t have a choice. ‘I have to do this project this year,’ is almost the way it is.”
Schantz said he does as much preventive maintenance as he can, and some equipment is still working fine long past its life expectancy, he said.
He uses the district’s five-year capital maintenance plan to prioritize projects. Schantz tries to focus on those that address safety, security or disabled accessibility, he said.
Kvapil, who briefly clashed with Schantz during the recent board meeting, said the capital maintenance plan is a flawed tool because it doesn’t include criteria to prioritize projects, he said.
He said he “disagrees wholeheartedly” with the district’s prioritization methods.
Schigur said criticism that the district does not properly prioritize “couldn’t be further from the truth.” Milton has often gathered information from teachers and parents about what they need in a school building and used that to devise referendum proposals, he said.
The district has tried to compromise by trimming the 2016 referendum to reduce the price by $17 million. Milton made those cuts after criticism that it was seeking extravagance, Schigur said.
And the district has tried to make spending decisions through a long-term lens.
The district could have made temporary fixes to its track years ago, but the track doubles as a walkway and standing room viewing area for football games. That deteriorates the surface, Schigur said.
Milton would need to change those viewership habits to truly extend the track’s longevity. But it can’t do that because there’s no room for a different path to the bleachers, he said.
That forces the district to maintain rather than upgrade.
“There’s not a net gain of anything. It’s just as is, fix it. As is, fix it. As is, fix it,” Schigur said. “We need a different funding source, a one-time funding source, to make a much larger dent to make the vehicle move.”
What would a one-time funding source be? Schigur said that could mean a large donation, dipping into fund balance or, in all likelihood, another referendum attempt.
The school board has not delved into what a third referendum in as many years could look like. Its cost would surely be higher than the $4.5 million stadium price tag, and Schigur wasn’t certain if its terms would include all or part of those renovations, he said.
Milton isn’t trying to reframe this referendum debate around athletics, but sports facilities should at least be considered, Schigur said.
“From our lens, the conversation of that solution has to include multiple areas within the district. There’s nothing that’s solely academic or solely athletic,” he said. “It’s all intertwined, whether people want to separate them or not. We have to make those tough choices.”
Schigur said athletic areas can double as places for physical education and other non-sports events, such as graduation or concerts. It’s athletic space used for academic purposes.
Lance Fena, a district resident and regular face at board meetings, agrees with some of that argument. Teamwork and sportsmanship are good life skills, but classroom learning should take precedence, he said.
Kvapil had a similar view, touting the character-building aspect of sports. But he didn’t see how another facility would enhance those intangibles, he said.
Schigur believed some athletic facilities were important because of their civic pride benefits—especially the pool, which is the only one in the city.
“That helps connect people to schools,” he said. “If the facilities that help connect the community to the school fall into a place where they’re not usable, then the community and the school district have less connection.”
The district could permanently relieve some pressure on existing facilities if it purchases the Hawk Zone, a former bowling alley it has rented for the past year. The building is primarily used by Milton’s baseball and softball teams and other youth clubs.
Buying the Hawk Zone from its current owner would cost roughly $500,000, Schigur said. An action item could soon appear on a school board agenda.
As the board gears up for another round of referendum talks, the most important thing is to find common ground between all sides, Schigur said.
Safety and security upgrades could be the magic bullet that unites a divided district, especially in the wake of yet another school shooting.
Kvapil said the need to address unsafe athletic facilities was important, but improving secure entrances was a bigger priority.
“I’ve always said this, and I still believe it. The first order of business that the school district is responsible for is safety and security and then access,” Kvapil said. “To me, we really have to ensure our students are safe. Parents send their kids off to school every day and hope they come home safe. That’s a responsibility of the school district.”
Secure entrance upgrades are scheduled to be completed within the next few years. Milton can’t get them done sooner because its budget is too tight, Schigur said.
A facilities referendum would expedite their completion, he said.
No referendum would have universal support, but Schigur believes most people believe the district needs to do something about its facilities.
“The previous referendums seem to have gotten a life of discussing differences instead of coming together and talking about what brings us together,” he said. “If we start there and focus on that, then I believe the solution that comes out of those conversations would become a lot clearer and be better supported.”
When the national housing market imploded in 2008, Janesville architectural designer Brian Kaiser fled the residential construction business.
For 10 years, he worked instead for his cousin’s company, designing and planning commercial property redevelopments.
Now, after a decade hiatus from the residential construction game, he’s back.
Kaiser set up a booth advertising the re-launch of Kaiser Design/Build, LLC this weekend at the South Central Wisconsin Builders Association’s Home Show at the Holiday Inn Express in Janesville. The home show is an annual, local expo for residential builders and contractors to link up with local consumers.
Kaiser’s return to the world of home building comes as housing starts in Janesville are showing signs of picking up this year. That’s after years of recovery in housing prices after the recession, and a re-emerging demand—or, some might call it a shortage—in local housing on the market.
At the home show on Saturday, Kaiser had blueprints laid out on a desk showing designs for new, 1,500- to 2,500-square-foot homes he plans to build this year. He said they’ll blend some elements of the Prairie style, along with clean elements of commercial construction design he’s picked up over the past decade.
“I came back to home building because residential design is my passion,” Kaiser said. “But also, the time seems right to do it.
“I looked and there were more and more contractors putting holes in the ground. Local industry seems to be making a comeback. Those are tattle-tale signs. The bounce back here, it all seemed to lend itself to jumping back into residential building.”
Builders registered 20 housing starts with the city of Janesville between November 2017 and January 2018—starts slated to be built after first thaw this spring, according to a Gazette review of city permit records for new single-family homes. According to city records, the month of February has brought two more housing starts registered with the city, bringing the total to 22.
That’s more than double the housing starts registered at Janesville City Hall during the same, three-month period a year ago, when builders registered for 11 permits for new homes, according to city records.
Meanwhile, as the number of new-built homes is on the uptick, prices are climbing, too, a snapshot of Janesville housing starts shows.
The average cost for a new single-family home slated to be built this year is $227,000—an 11-percent jump from the $204,000 average cost for a housing start this time last year, according to a city records.
That’s in line with a 14 percent increase Rock County saw in average sale prices for existing homes between the end of 2016 and the end of 2017, according to data from the South Central Wisconsin Multiple Listing Service.
Driving that increase is the relative scarcity of existing homes on the market. Analysts through the Wisconsin Realtors Association have said for months that tightening inventories are causing prices to climb.
As of January 2018, the average sale price for an existing home was $172,000, according to the South Central Wisconsin Multiple Listing Service.
Doug Scott, president of custom builder Advantage Homes, last year bought The Ridges of Rock County subdivision—which is the name now of the former Kennedy Homes subdivision off Highway 26 on Janesville’s north side.
Scott showed The Gazette a map of The Ridges that shows about 60 lots now for sale—33 of which Advantage is selling. Scott said he’s got three homes for sale at The Ridges now, and this year, he plans to build several new homes there on contract, which right now is about a seven-month process.
Scott said the new homes will range in price from $250,000 to $400,000.
Scott thinks existing home sale prices in Janesville and the cost of new-built homes were “imbalanced” for years coming out of the Great Recession. Now, he believes, they have begun to “equalize” at a time when people are navigating a regional housing market that’s become tight as a drum.
Scott said he believes that trend, along with a general climb in the local economy, could boost housing starts here.
“We’ve got a lot of industry coming in town, and we also have a lot of people in Janesville who are from Madison originally and work in Madison. They bought a house here five to 15 years ago, and they can’t find anything in 1,600 square feet on the market for $250,000 in Madison.”
Like Scott, Loren Fellows, a mortgage field manager for Johnson Bank, said because the cost imbalance between new construction and existing homes has lessened compared to a few years ago, lenders are more likely to front loans on new homes, even ones built on speculation.
Rates for mortgages on new homes remain similar to fixed loans for existing homes, Fellows said.
Scott said he’s building homes this year for clients including a Parker High School teacher, an empty-nester couple who is retiring and wanting to downsize to a slightly smaller home.
“These are generally not first-time buyers, although as tight as the market is (for existing homes), I wouldn’t be surprised if we start seeing some first-time buyers who are two-income families,” Scott said.
Scott said the cost for home building materials has climbed in recent months, in part because of a federal tariff placed last year on Canadian lumber, but moreover because demand for construction materials is on the rise.
He said lumber costs are up about 30 percent right now, and that might be one reason for an increase in the cost of building a home in the last year.
Since the shooting attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on Feb. 14, a student there, Sarah Chadwick, has amassed a Twitter following of more than 150,000 people. On Thursday night, Chadwick decided to share a thought with them.
Was it time for a message calling for thoughts, prayers and privacy?
Hardly. It was time to go after one of Florida’s U.S. senators for taking donations from the National Rifle Association.
“We should change the names of AR-15s to ‘Marco Rubio’ because they are so easy to buy,” Chadwick wrote.
This is what politicizing a tragedy looks like, and the kids are more than happy to keep doing it.
With 17 of their classmates and faculty shot to death, the students of the school have become celebrity activists whom many left-leaning Americans have embraced as the new leaders of the nation’s gun control movement.
The students have been bold, confrontational and even abrasive, rarely holding back their anger, even if it means disrespecting their older, establishment opponents. They say what they mean.
“Honestly, just using brutal honesty—that’s it,” said student David Hogg, one of the movement’s most prominent voices. “I know people are saying it’s intense. I would argue the opposite. We’re fighting for these kids that died because they can’t fight anymore. We’re really trying to get justice for them.
“Everybody deals with grief in a different way. For me, it’s anger, and wanting to prevent whatever caused it from happening again,” Hogg said.
The students’ stridency has added pressure on lawmakers and kept the shooting from fading from the headlines.
It has also insulted right-wing adversaries several times, including by implying gun rights supporters have the 17 deaths at Stoneman Douglas on their hands.
“Sen. Rubio, it’s hard to look at you and not look down a barrel of an AR-15 and not look at Nikolas Cruz,” student activist Cameron Kasky told Rubio at CNN’s Wednesday night town hall with students, parents and lawmakers. The remark drew scorn from the right.
“No thanks, Cameron,” a writer at the conservative website RedState.com fired back at the student later. “I don’t need some 17-year-old putz to defend my kids. In fact, either of my daughters, particularly the 13-year-old, can kick your ass. And when it comes to choosing sides, I’m on the other.”
The students have also faced accusations of being disrespectful brats.
“Parents, what would you do if your child lectured and ridiculed a U.S. senator on national television?” Todd Starnes of Fox News said on Twitter after Kasky and other students ripped into Rubio.
The kids know exactly what they’re doing, and they don’t care about the criticism.
“When these politicians kill our friends, why are we expected to play nice?” Hogg said. “Obviously it’s due to their inaction; that’s what we’re aiming at.”
Hogg prominence has led to a backlash of conspiracy theories accusing him of not being a student at the school. It also led him to question who, exactly, has been lowering the discourse.
“You know what’s disrespectful?” Hogg said. “Calling out witnesses to a mass shooting and calling us actors. That’s disrespectful. And even questioning whether we were even … there.… We are teenagers … we’re not known for being mature, but come on.”
The students’ advocacy has also been expressed in the language of their generation, which is well-versed in the combative “dunks,” “burns” and “owns” of arguing on social media. They know how to speak into their own cameras and they know how to play to audiences online, so when a fight breaks out on social media, it’s on their turf.
While the movement has inspired students at schools around the nation to walk out of classes in support of gun control, the history of 21st century activism has shown that there are upsides and downsides to organizing over social media.
Platforms such as Twitter excel at helping newfound activists to create and document conflict, and to attract ever-larger audiences for their own messages. Their visibility also helps recruit like-minded peers outside their communities.
But over the long term, social media platforms can also pose a risk to activist movements by magnifying and publicizing disputes between members or creating bitterness among core supporters who play key roles but who attract less public attention.
So far, few signs of internal dissent seem to have broken out among Stoneman Douglas students, whose cohesion has struck longtime advocates as unique.
“I don’t think we’ve ever seen an entire community, including the survivors, have a clear call to action,” said Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action, a gun control group.
In past mass shootings, it has been common for family members of victims to become passionate, outspoken gun control advocates.
But in Parkland, “it’s as if all of them agreed immediately that stronger gun laws would prevent anyone else from going through this tragedy again,” Watts said. “These teens are realizing they don’t have to live this way, they don’t have to die this way.”
The students’ stridency, however disliked by their opponents, seems to have had an effect on Republican lawmakers. President Donald Trump and Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who are strongly supported by the NRA, have signaled that they are open to raising the age limit for buying weapons.
Questioned by students, Rubio declined to say he would stop accepting donations from the NRA, but he said he would be open to banning large ammunition magazines or supporting other legislation.
Rubio also learned firsthand the risks of talking to a radical younger generation that has been unfamiliar with the past failures of the gun control movement, including the inability to bring back the nation’s assault-weapons ban.
“Once you start looking at how easy it is to get around it, you would literally have to ban every semiautomatic rifle that’s sold in the U.S.,” Rubio said at the town hall with students and parents.
Rubio was implying that such a move would, politically, go way too far.
What Rubio did not anticipate is that the audience of students would start applauding at the idea.
“Fair enough,” Rubio said. “Fair enough. That is a valid position to hold.”
But he added the political reality that students will face as they prod federal and state lawmakers around the country: “My colleagues do not support banning every semiautomatic rifle sold in America.”
local • 2A-3A, 10A
Official: Referendum needed
A $3.5 million referendum that will be on the ballot April 3 is the only viable option to keep the Delavan-Darien School District competitive, Superintendent Robert Crist said. Crist said the school district is plagued by low funding caps from the state, and a referendum is the only way out of an almost 25-year funding slump. “We’ve climbed a mountain, and we’re at a plateau,” Crist said. “That’s why we need this. If we don’t get this, there will be significant cuts.”
state •3A, 5A
Woman charged over deaths
A Milwaukee woman has been charged with suffocating three babies more than 30 years ago—cases that investigators initially attributed to sudden infant death syndrome, prosecutors said Friday. The cases were reopened in March 2015 after Nancy Moronez’s daughter told police her mother confessed to suffocating Moronez’s son with a garbage bag in 1980, prosecutors say. The two other infants died in 1984 and 1985 while Moronez was their baby-sitter.
nation/world • 10B-11B
Democratic memo released
A redacted, declassified memo released by Democrats on the House intelligence committee Saturday aims to counter a narrative Republicans on the committee have pushed for months—that the FBI and Justice Department conspired against President Donald Trump during his presidential campaign, abusing a secret surveillance process to spy on one of his operatives in its Russia investigation.