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Blackhawk Community Credit Union to distribute bricks from Janesville GM plant


Residents who want a solid piece of General Motors’ legacy in Janesville will get their chance May 4.

Blackhawk Community Credit Union plans to distribute bricks from the former General Motors assembly plant in Janesville. They’re free and come with a “certificate of authenticity” that memorializes the nearly 100 years the plant existed.

Credit union board member Steve Knox, a volunteer in an effort to obtain, clean and distribute bricks from the plant, said the credit union has cleaned up about 2,000 bricks so far and is ready to hand out up to two bricks to anybody who wants them.

That effort has rolled out as the property’s new owner, Commercial Development, has worked to demolish the plant and ready the 250-acre site for redevelopment.

The credit union has worked with Commercial Development to obtain historical relics—including bricks—from the plant that it aims to incorporate in a GM workers’ “legacy center” at a new, $30 million corporate headquarters in downtown Janesville.

The credit union has planned for months to give the bricks away to people who want them as a memento of the GM plant, a landmark to Janesville’s history as an auto manufacturing city.

As far as Knox knows, the Blackhawk volunteers are the only group making bricks available to the public.

“We’re the main GM ‘brick liaison,’ I think,” he said.

The 4.8 million-square-foot plant, which stopped production in 2009, has been steadily disappearing as Commercial Development trucks out steel and scrap. The company had promised to make some bricks available for former employees and others in the community.

Knox said credit union volunteers will distribute the bricks from 1 to 4 p.m. May 4 at Blackhawk’s west-side branch at 2640 W. Court St. The distribution is planned as a drive-up operation. People will be allowed two free bricks per vehicle, he said.

The bricks are among the oldest in the plant, Knox said. They come from a wall that separated Fisher Body and Chevrolet operations—an area thousands of workers passed every day.

“They’re kind of the sandstone look. There is some red in there; it all depends on the bricks you pulled up,” he said.

“You’re getting everything from broken, cracked, immaculate and everything in between. But you can tell the craftsmanship of those bricks is something special compared to what you get from a home improvement store today.”

Blackhawk Community Credit Union was founded at the GM plant and initially served local autoworkers. Many of the credit union’s local members are current and former GM workers and their family members.

Several credit union volunteers, including board members and their teenage children, have spent hours cleaning up the bricks and piling them on pallets.

Knox has been involved with the brick project. He said he’s been working alongside his daughter and his dad, Ross Knox, a former plant worker, to get the bricks ready.

“The younger people did a lot. The older people are very sore from the work,” he said.

Knox said he has enjoyed seeing young volunteers realize the significance of a manufacturing plant that shaped the ideals and family structures of thousands of residents. Bricks can’t talk, but they speak just the same, Knox said.

“Every one of those kids who’ve helped, while most of them are too young to understand the importance of what GM meant, they understood the emotion of those bricks and what that means to this community. I didn’t have emotion about that until just recently, but I think that’s pretty neat,” Knox said.

He said May 11 will be a tentative second date for brick distribution.

Knox said the credit union could obtain more bricks as demolition continues. Some of them might come from the plant’s façade, which faces South Jackson Street. It’s one of the last remaining brick structures on the huge plant site.

There’s also a chance Blackhawk could get some truckloads from the 200-foot-tall smokestack after demolition crews topple it, he said.

The stack could come down very soon, he said.

Angela Major 

A pelican spreads its wings as it takes off above the Rock River on Monday near the boat launch at the intersection of River Street and Rockport Road in Janesville. 

Medicare, Social Security face shaky fiscal futures


The financial condition of the government’s bedrock retirement programs for middle- and working-class Americans remains shaky, with Medicare pointed toward insolvency by 2026, according to a report Monday by the government’s overseers of Medicare and Social Security.

It paints a sobering picture of the programs, though it’s relatively unchanged from last year’s update. Social Security would become insolvent in 2035, one year later than previously estimated.

Both programs will eventually need to be addressed to avert automatic cuts should their trust funds run dry. Neither President Donald Trump nor Capitol Hill’s warring factions have put politically perilous cost curbs on their to-do list.

The report is the latest update of the government’s troubled fiscal picture. It lands in a capital that has proven chronically unable to address it. Trump has declared benefit cuts to the nation’s signature retirement programs off limits, and many Democratic presidential candidates are calling for expanding Medicare benefits rather than addressing the program’s worsening finances.

Many on both sides actually agree it would be better for Washington to act sooner rather than later to shore up the programs rather than wait until they are on the brink of insolvency and have to weigh more drastic steps.

“The programs that millions of Americans pay into and expect to have in the future are going broke—driving up federal spending, growing our deficits and crowding out other priorities in the process. We cannot afford to ignore this reality any longer,” said Arkansas Rep. Steve Womack, ranking Republican on the Budget Committee.

But potential cuts such as curbing inflationary increases for Social Security, hiking payroll taxes or raising the Medicare retirement age are so politically freighted and toxic that Washington’s power players are mostly ignoring the problem.

Later this year, Social Security is expected to declare a 1.8% cost-of-living increase for 2020 based on current trends, program officials say.

Monday’s report by three Cabinet heads and Social Security’s acting commissioner, urges lawmakers to “take action sooner rather than later to address these shortfalls so that a broader range of solutions can be considered and more time will be available to phase in changes while giving the public adequate time to prepare.”

If Congress doesn’t act, both programs would eventually be unable to cover the full cost of promised benefits. With Social Security that could mean automatic benefit cuts for most retirees, many of whom depend on the program to cover basic living costs.

For Medicare, it could mean that hospitals, nursing homes and other medical providers would be paid only part of their agreed-upon fees.

In a glimmer of good news, Social Security’s disability program is now estimated to remain solvent for an additional 20 years, through 2052. Overall, however, Social Security would run out of reserves by 2035, one year later than projected in last year’s report.

“We remain committed to further bolstering the programs’ finances, which will benefit from the long-term growth we will see as a result of the Administration’s economic policies,” said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

As an indication of Medicare’s woes, it would take a payroll tax increase of 0.91 percentage points to fully address its shortfall or a 19% cut in spending. Medicare’s problems are considered more difficult to solve, as health care costs regularly outpace inflation and economic growth.

Social Security is the government’s largest program, costing $853 billion last year, with another $147 billion for disability benefits. Medicare’s hospital, outpatient care and prescription drug benefits totaled about $740 billion.

Obituaries and death notices for April 23, 2019

Larry E. Bobsin

Sharon Lee Henke

Richard L. Hoium

Sandra Lou Jones

Kenneth R. Laughery

Virginia “Ginny” Finnane Lee

Thomas J. Murphy

Jamie Joe Nastali

Linda Lou O’Brien

Judith C. “Judy” Orlando

Michelle Osborne

Sait Serkan Gurbuz 

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a news conference on Monday, April 22, 2019, at the Department of State in Washington. The Trump administration on Monday told five nations — Japan, South Korea, Turkey, China and India — that they will no longer be exempt from U.S. sanctions if they continue to import oil from Iran. (AP Photo/Sait Serkan Gurbuz)

Carlos Osorio 

Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, right, makes a layup as Detroit Pistons center Andre Drummond defends during the first half of Game 3 of a first-round NBA basketball playoff series, Saturday, April 20, 2019, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

Janesville City Council authorizes $25,000 for sports complex design phase


Janesville’s pursuit of a new indoor sports complex passed another checkpoint Monday after the city council unanimously authorized spending $25,000 for the building’s design and business plan development phase.

The council also narrowed the list of potential sites to three—the Janesville Mall, a vacant lot near the intersection of Wright Road and Milwaukee Street, and a vacant lot between the Janesville Youth Sports Complex and W.W. Grainger.

Borrowing $25,000 will cover half the costs for the design and business plan phase. The Janesville Area Convention and Visitors Bureau is covering the other $25,000.

The two organizations split the cost of a survey and feasibility study last year to gauge public interest in the project. The survey was largely supportive, and most respondents believed replacing the Janesville Ice Arena was necessary.

Public support continued Monday night. Five people spoke in favor of a new facility, which is expected to have one permanent ice rink, a temporary rink that could be removed for other sports and additional flexible space.

One of the speakers was RockStep Capital President Andy Weiner, whose company has owned the mall for about a year. Weiner said RockStep was open to bringing the sports complex to the mall.

Malls are searching for new ways to remain viable as retail continues to shift online. A sports complex would fit nicely and help ensure the building’s viability “for the next 30 to 40 years,” Weiner said.

He added that RockStep is in talks to buy the former Sears building, the only part of the mall not under RockStep control. That would create another possible arena location at the site, in addition to the former Boston Store on the other side of the mall.

Earlier this month, a steering committee reduced possible public and private sites to four—the mall, the site on Wright Road, Palmer Park and Marling Lumber near downtown.

The council dropped the latter two sites Monday. Putting the facility in Palmer Park received overwhelming public opposition, and Marling Lumber had an odd site configuration and flooding concern, council members agreed.

They added the Grainger/youth sports complex site to the mix, but that land is not yet guaranteed to be available, Neighborhood and Community Services Director Jennifer Petruzzello said.

All three locations will receive site-specific designs. That will help the city refine the facility’s cost estimate, which was initially projected to cost about $29 million, she said.

Once the design and business plan phase is finished, the city will need to explore a public-private partnership for construction funding and eventually settle on a location, Petruzzello said.