Competing needs: Milton could need new school, fire station, public works building

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Stacy Vogel
Monday, February 9, 2009
— Milton public works employees rotate city vehicles every day to make space in the department’s garage.

Nearly 50 Milton firefighters train in a conference room built for 30.

Milton Middle School students meet in storage rooms.

As Milton has grown, so has the strain on its public facilities. Now, some buildings are worn out and cramped at a time when spare cash is nearly impossible to find.

“Historically, I think all levels of government in Milton from a fiscal perspective have operated conservatively,” City Administrator Todd Schmidt said. “As our communities grow, which they have, the conservative approach to buildings ends up competing with the needs of the community.”

Local officials have said the fire station and public works department need attention. Some also include the police station, though it was remodeled a decade ago when it stopped sharing space with city hall.

The school district, meanwhile, has pushed back plans for a new high school to address crowding throughout the district.

The facilities are controlled by different government entities and serve slightly different populations.

-- The Milton Public Works Department is part of city government and serves only city residents.

-- The Milton Joint Fire Department covers the city and Milton Township and is run by a commission of town board and city council members.

-- About 80 percent of the Milton School District’s property value lies outside the city, including a sizable chunk in Janesville. About 13 percent lies in Milton Township.

Still, Milton taxpayers could take a hit in the coming years if the city, school district and fire commission all decide to construct new buildings or remodel old ones.

“The biggest thing is you have to look at what the taxpayers can afford and when it can be afforded and how it can be done,” Mayor Nate Bruce said. “It’s something that should be dealt with, but economically, it’s something that should be dealt with at the proper time.”

Milton officials haven’t formally discussed options or timelines for the public works building or fire station, though consultants have said both buildings will need to be replaced eventually.

The fire commission is researching potential grants for a building project but doesn’t have a specific project in mind, Chief Loren Lippincott said.

In July, a design team presented the school district with plans for a $76.7 million project to build a new high school and turn the existing high school into a middle school, but the board probably won’t set a referendum date for at least a year, President Rob Roy said. The district is looking to trim the proposal’s cost. District residents would need to approve the plan through referendum.

With so many governmental bodies involved, it’s hard to determine where the priority should be, Schmidt said.

“Everyone feels their needs are critical,” he said. “How do you place one need above another?”

But several officials said the groups should work together on issues such as timing, funding and sharing resources.

“As the city grows and the district grows, we each have different needs but stemming from the same situation,” Roy said. “It might not be a bad idea for us to get together.”

Superintendent Bernie Nikolay said the school district would be interested in any proposal about collaboration, especially regarding a pool, maintenance or storage facilities.

“If we could save money, we would look at it,” he said.

Lynda Clark, a member of the city council and fire commission, said the organizations should look at sharing facilities.

“How much money could we be saving if we had, say for example, one place for the police cars and the fire trucks and the ambulance all in one building, versus three different places?” she asked.

Despite the poor economy, Clark believes the community should address its needs.

“My hopes are that people realize that we are a growing city and we do have to keep up with this stuff,” she said.

The needs
Milton Public Works Department:

A 2005 organizational study said the department eventually needs a new facility and advised the city to think carefully before investing in the existing site.

Problems listed in the study include:

-- Inadequate office and storage space. Employees work out of a “cramp, poorly laid out work area” and have nowhere to meet besides the lunch room.

-- Inadequate mechanic bay. The bay lacks a vehicle hoist and secure storage area for parts, tools and equipment.

-- Cramped vehicle storage area. “Vehicle storage and operations start-up requires a complex shuffling of vehicles on a daily basis,” the report states. The small storage area limits the size of vehicles the department can use.

Milton Joint Fire Station:

A 2008 study of the fire department found the station inadequate and recommended remodeling or building new. Problems include:

-- No shower facilities or separate locker rooms for female employees.

-- Inadequate sleeping space.

-- Minimal storage and work space. Clean and dirty EMS supplies are stored together, creating a risk of contamination.

-- No fire alarm.

Other problems listed by Chief Loren Lippincott include:

-- Cramped vehicle storage and meeting space. The department has gone from 35 to nearly 50 firefighters and tripled its amount of equipment and vehicles since the station was built in the 1970s, he said.

-- Structural problems such as cracks over the doors and water seeping into the concrete blocks.

Milton School District:

The district’s middle school is at capacity, and the high school and elementary schools are close, Superintendent Bernie Nikolay said. The high school has outdated kitchens, athletic facilities and technology classrooms.

The district’s rapid growth has halted in the last year, but officials still expect growth in the long run, they said.

The district hopes to alleviate crowding by building a new high school and moving the middle school into the existing high school building. It would then distribute elementary and intermediate school students among the remaining buildings.

The plan would also bring the district office and the Milton, Edgerton, Clinton Alternative School into a district building. The district rents space for the facilities now.

Last updated: 9:41 am Thursday, December 13, 2012

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