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Committee pegs Janesville Mall as preferred site for sports complex

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If Janesville builds an indoor sports complex, it should be attached to the Janesville Mall, a city committee recommended Thursday.

That doesn’t mean the mall is guaranteed to be the home of the sports complex or even that a new indoor sports complex is guaranteed.

The project would need OKs from the city parks and recreation committee, city plan commission and city council, said Jennifer Petruzzello, neighborhood and community services director.

A community engagement forum is planned Wednesday, Sept. 25.

The city council had instructed the indoor sports complex feasibility steering committee to look at five sites:

  • The Janesville Mall.
  • A vacant lot near the intersection of Wright Road and Milwaukee Street.
  • A vacant lot near the Youth Sports Complex.
  • A two-block area downtown.
  • A location off Kettering Street.

Committee members unanimously chose the mall site. They chose the vacant lot near the Youth Sports Complex as a secondary choice.

Perkins & Will of Chicago was hired to create conceptual designs and provide cost estimates for each of the five locations.

The complex is slated to include:

  • A main ice rink.
  • A secondary rink with removable ice to transform into courts or a turf field.
  • Flexible space capable of holding four courts, a turf field or an additional sheet of ice.
  • Amenities such as a pro-shop, medical office, locker rooms, meeting rooms and concessions.
  • Parking.

The study from Perkins & Will estimates the mall would be the least expensive option at $33 million. The most expensive would be the downtown site at a cost of $39.6 million to $58 million.

The complex would be built at the site of the former JCPenney Store, which would be demolished.

Pros of the mall site include adaptive reuse of existing mall property, minimized site development and parking costs, access to outside retail services and established traffic patterns, according to the study.

Cons include inefficient parking and demolition, according to the study.

Committee member and city council member Paul Benson said he spoke to mall leadership Thursday and learned the mall would sell the JCPenney site to the city for $1.

Mall officials are willing to be flexible with the city on most aspects of the project, except time. Officials want a commitment to the space by the end of the year, Benson said.

Adding to the mall’s appeal, Benson said, is that the mall is considering putting a family entertainment space—including trampolines, rock walls, go-karts and other activities—in the former Boston Store space. The sports complex and entertainment space could benefit from each other, Benson said.

Rockstep Capital, the mall’s owner, announced in July it was creating a similar entertainment center called Hype Indoor Adventures at the Bonita Lakes Mall in Meridian, Mississippi.

According to a news report from WTOK in Mississippi, Hype Indoor Adventures will include go-karts, trampolines, batting cages, ax-throwing and other activities. It will be located at the mall’s former Sears building.

The committee Thursday listened to a presentation from Brandon Dowling of Johnson Consulting on a business plan draft detailing projected economic impact and operating costs for the complex.

Johnson Consulting based its business plan on the mall being chosen as the location.

Petruzzello said the city did not ask Johnson to assume the mall location as its model. The city asked the group to base its report on the site the consulting group thought would make the greatest economic impact on the community.

Estimates show the sports complex would start making money in its fifth year of operations, Dowling said.

Rental rates for ice should increase from what is charged at the Janesville Ice Arena and be brought up to market rate, Dowling said.

Janesville Jets President Bill McCoshen said he has concerns about higher ice rental rates and proposed changes in what entities receive advertising revenue.

Details on revenue sharing will be negotiated if the complex is built, McCoshen said. McCoshen, a member of the committee, supported the committee’s choice of the mall location.

Angela Major 

Craig’s McKaylie Justman (4), left, Tina Hodgkinson (25), center, and Sophia Vitaioli (23), right, celebrate a point while playing Parker on Thursday, September 12, 2019, at Parker High School in Janesville.

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Rock County Board hears from family of dead teen

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Family and friends of a teen who took his own life spoke to the Rock County Board on Thursday night and called on the board to investigate.

The Rock County Human Services Department was in charge of the care of 17-year-old Cole Fuller when he died April 4 at the home of his mother and stepfather in rural Milton.

As reported earlier, the state Department of Health Services has already investigated and found failures by Rock County officials.

The Rock County Human Services Department’s Crisis Intervention Unit is working on a plan for corrective action in response to the state investigation.

More needs to be done, said Fuller’s father, Jeff Fuller, and stepfather, Steve Wilson.

They called for county officials to be held accountable and for the board to appoint an independent investigator to look into failures that led to Cole’s death.

“I’m asking the board to please act,” Fuller said. “Please look into this case. Please lead.”

They also accused county officials of falsifying records and lying to them.

No county board member or other official responded at the meeting. The Gazette was unable to contact county officials for comment because of time constraints Thursday night.

Cole was being treated for mental health problems, including thoughts of suicide.

When he moved from his father’s home in Walworth County to his mother and stepfather’s home in rural Milton, his care was transferred to Rock County.

When he finally met with a case worker after several delays, the worker “threatened” to send him back to a state psychiatric hospital. Two hours later, he was dead, Wilson said after the meeting.

The lack of treatment was shocking “but not as shocking as the lack of response from the county administrator and this board,” Fuller said.

Wilson told the board that although the human services department is making changes, those changes would have little chance of success if the same people who failed to follow policies in Cole’s case are involved.

Cole’s brother, Clayton Fuller, and friend Abigale Greenwald pointed to the county’s failure to look after Cole.

Anthony Wahl 

Clayton Fuller, brother of Cole Fuller, addresses the Rock County Board during a public comment period Thursday at the Rock County Courthouse in Janesville.

Clayton said county workers got a slap on the wrist and no “real consequences.”

“Would you let these people take care of your children?” Clayton asked.

“What if that happened to your kid? How would you feel?” Greenwald said to the board.

Asked after the meeting what holding people accountable would mean, Fuller said, “fired, put on leave, changed to DPW so they can hold a parking sign. I don’t know, but they shouldn’t be dealing with people with mental health issues.”

Obituaries and death notices for Sept. 13, 2019

Marian H. Fitzsimons

Carol C. Gevaart

Melburn “Bud” Hammer

Bonnie J. Johnson

Robert C. Schulien

Ronald J. Zirk

Angela Major 

Parker’s Tina Shelton (10), right, celebrates with teammate Shay Riley (16), left, after scoring a point against Craig on Thursday, September 12, 2019, at Parker High School in Janesville.

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Janesville school test scores drop again


The Janesville School District’s ACT scores for the junior class dropped for the third year in a row.

The results of ACT scores and the Wisconsin Forward Exam were released by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction on Thursday.

The Janesville School District’s overall ACT scores went from 19.3 in the 2016-17 school year, to 18.9 in 2017-18 and to 18.4 in 2018-19, according to DPI data.

The top score for the ACT is 36.

Those results are based on ACT tests given to juniors last year. It used to be that only college-bound students took the ACT, but now the state requires all juniors to take the exam.

District officials said they are making changes they hope lead to better scores in the future, such as ramping up middle school math instruction and teaching some topics closer to the date of the ACT.

Brian Babbitts, assistant director of secondary education and coordinator of district assessment, said it’s difficult to pinpoint a specific reason for the decrease in scores, but it’s important to remember that each year’s scores represent a new group of students.

The ACT and the Wisconsin Forward Exam are just two data points of student achievement, but they give district officials valuable information, Babbitts said.

“It gives you another lens to look at the rigors of the standards,” Babbitts said.

The school district is changing its middle school math instruction to help students deal with the challenges of the ACT. That doesn’t mean the math will necessarily be more difficult, but it might be more in depth. Because students have so much information at their fingertips, the challenge is to help them understand how mathematics work beyond the basics of the times tables and memorizing algebraic formulas, Babbitts said.

For the past several years the district has required teachers to do more “engaged” learning, which the district believes matches the kind of complex thinking required by the job market and by exams such as the ACT. Such learning tends to be more hands-on and requires students learn complex problems. That’s opposed to the traditional “sit and get” method, where students sit at desks and take notes.

Babbitts and school officials are also introducing students to the ACT Aspire. The tests and assessments require the same kind of critical thinking skills required on the ACT. Students become more comfortable facing such challenges.

District communications specialist Patrick Gasper said the Wisconsin Forward Exams, which are given to children in grades 3 to 8, showed that the district was having success closing the gap between white students and English language learners and African Americans. In addition, the district is closing the gap between middle- and upper-class students and students who qualify for free and reduced lunch.

“It shows that our core instruction is working well,” Babbitts said.

The Forward Exam places students in one of four categories: below basic, basic, proficient and advanced.

Highlights from the Janesville School District’s Wisconsin Forward Exam include:

  • About 80% of students scored in the basic, proficient or advanced categories in English language arts.
  • About 72% of students scored in the basic, proficient or advanced categories in math.
  • About 76% of students scored in the basic, proficient or advanced categories in social studies.
  • About 88% of students scored in the basic, proficient or advanced categories in science.