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Blackhawk referendum on track? Community survey in the mail


Green and Rock county residents soon will be receiving surveys asking if they would support a $32 million referendum to help build a public safety and transportation center at Blackhawk Technical College.

At its February board meeting, the Blackhawk Technical College Board reviewed a survey designed by School Perceptions, an independent firm that specializes in such work. The survey was paid for by the Blackhawk Technical College Foundation, which does not receive any tax dollars.

In October 2018, the college bought 38 acres of farmland north of its central campus, 6004 S. County G, Janesville. At that time, only a track for an emergency vehicle operator course was planned.

But then college officials toured other facilities and talked to local law enforcement officials, fire chiefs and businesses. They realized the facility could be more useful both to the college and the community if it was more than just a track, college fire science coordinator Rob Balsamo told the board in November.

The primary feature still would be the track, but the center also would include specialized areas for semitrailer truck and motorcycle training, a practice tower and pond for firefighters, a “tactical village” for police exercises, a more realistic practice area for electrical power distribution students, an educational building, and a new home for the college’s transportation studies program, according to board documents.

The transportation studies program is now located at the corner of highways 14 and 51 north of Janesville. The college has been trying to sell that building and move the program back to the main campus.

Vehicle training now takes place in the parking lot of BTC’s main campus on County G.

Using the parking lot for training is risky because of student and transit traffic. In addition, the area isn’t designed for trainees operating large vehicles, Balsamo told the board in November.

At the same meeting, college President Tracy Pierner said he and his staff met with law enforcement groups, fire chiefs, and other city and town officials who said they would support a public safety and transportation center.

The survey, which includes a detailed description of the project, asks, “Would you support a $32 million referendum to build a Public Safety and Transportation Center?” Respondents can chose from one of five answers ranging from “definitely no” to “definitely yes.”

If such a referendum was to pass, the district would borrow money for the project.

The impact on taxes to pay off the debt would be an additional:

  • $3 for every $100,000 of equalized property value for the first three years of the loan.
  • $2 for every $100,000 of equalized property value for year four.
  • $1 for every $100,000 of equalized property value for year five.

During years six to 20 of the loan, the tax rate would remain at or below the 2019-20 rate of 59 cents for every $1,000 of equalized value or $59 on a home valued at $100,000.

The survey includes an additional nine questions regarding the college’s performance in areas such as ability to transfer, its relationship with area school districts, its role in the region’s workplace and economic success.

Even without the referendum, the college plans to break ground on the track this spring, according to board documents.

The state allows technical colleges to spend $1.5 million on new construction every two years. The college spent $600,000 on the land, so it has about $900,000 to spend. At a meeting last fall, Pierner said that would cover the cost of the basic track and part of a skidpad.

If the college decided to build the center in stages to stay within the $1.5 million limit, the whole facility would take between 10 and 20 years to complete.

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Janesville indoor sports complex plan now calls for using former Sears location at mall


City officials and the owner of the Janesville Mall have negotiated a plan that fundraisers hope will make the indoor sports complex proposal more attractive to prospective donors.

The new plan puts the sports complex on the site of the former Sears store, making it visible from Milton Avenue, Janesville’s busiest commercial corridor, Neighborhood and Community Services Director Jennifer Petruzzello said.

The move should make the project more appealing to major donors, Janesville Jets President Bill McCoshen said. McCoshen is leading the private fundraising efforts, and his North American Hockey League team would be one of the facility’s primary beneficiaries.

So far, no donors have committed to the project, McCoshen said.

The city council heard from Petruzzello, McCoshen and Janesville Area Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Christine Rebout about fundraising efforts for the facility during its meeting Monday night.

The Friends of the Indoor Sports Complex group formed late last year to focus on gathering private contributions for the complex.

The sports complex would be paid for by a combination of private and public funds with the city acting as owner and operator. But there are still a number of hoops officials must jump through to make it happen.

The Friends group has reached out to 30 potential major local and regional donors, Rebout said.

Donors expressed interest in the project but had questions, mainly about location and visibility. The original plan had the sports complex replacing the former JCPenney space, closer to the intersection of Holiday Drive and Liberty Lane than Milton Avenue. The change to the former Sears location is a key factor in the Friends’ fundraising strategy, McCoshen said.

Donors would want their names and logos to be visible from Milton Avenue, he said.

Some donors said they would prefer a downtown location for the complex, but several committees, the plan commission and the city council preferred the mall location over a downtown location. A site on the east side near the existing youth sports complex was chosen as a secondary site.

The Friends group is now working with potential donors to answer questions and get fundraising commitments, Rebout said.

The city is continuing to negotiate details of the project with mall owner RockStep Capital, Petruzzello said.

Project costs are expected to change at the new site. Demolition of the former Sears is expected to cost more than the demolition of JCPenney would have, Petruzzello said.

RockStep’s offer to give the city the space for free and to pay to relocate affected mall tenants still stands, Petruzzello said.

The new plan preliminarily calls for the sports complex to take up the former Sears space and cut into other store and parking space, Petruzzello said.

Conversations between the mall and city will continue through April 13, when the council will be asked to approve funding for construction design, Petruzzello said.

The fundraising group is also exploring other funding sources including grants, the federal New Markets Tax Credit program and a potential new state program.

The state Assembly recently passed Assembly Bill 895 which, if passed by the state Senate and signed by Gov. Tony Evers, would offer $5 million to athletic facility projects across the state, McCoshen said.

Projects would be eligible up to receive up to $1 million for construction of or improvements to athletic or aquatic facilities, according to the bill.

Janesville would have to compete with other communities looking to get a piece of the $5 million, McCoshen said.

Council member Paul Benson said he is excited about the project and asked Petruzzello to report on anticipated user groups for the complex.

Council President Rich Gruber encouraged the Friends group to be diligent and focused moving forward.

”Come back with a product you can be proud of as opposed to just a product,” Gruber said.

Angela Major 

A robin splashes in a puddle Monday, March 9, 2020, during a rainy day at Traxler Park in Janesville.

UPDATE: Baby on life support, mother's boyfriend in custody


A 15-month-old girl was on life support Monday at a Rockford hospital while the child’s mother’s boyfriend was held at the Rock County Jail.

The boyfriend, Steven M. Horan, 30, of Janesville, was arrested on a charge of physical abuse to a child, causing great bodily harm, but it’s possible the formal charge will be even more serious.

The child is brain dead, and doctors delayed shutting off life support after the child’s father asked for more time with the child and for a second opinion, Assistant District Attorney Rich Sullivan said at Horan’s initial appearance in Rock County Court on Monday afternoon.

The writing of a criminal complaint was delayed pending police investigation, so Sullivan was said he would not object allowing Horan to be released from jail on a signature bond, but during the hearing, Sullivan received a note telling him that Judge John Wood had set a $10,000 cash bond over the weekend.

Court Commissioner Jack Hoag said he would not overrule Wood and allowed the bond to remain.

Sullivan said police believe Horan was drinking at the time the injuries were inflicted.

Hoag ordered Horan to maintain absolute sobriety and have no contact with the mother or any child under age 18.

Horan has two children of his own, but he is barred from seeing them under a Child Protective Services order imposed after his arrest, Sullivan said.

Janesville police officers responded to the home in the 500 block of Eisenhower Avenue at about 12:30 a.m. Saturday and found the child, who was not breathing; the child’s mother, who was administering CPR; and Horan, according to a police news release.

“The child was transported to Mercy Hospital with life-threatening injuries,” the release states.

Sullivan said the child suffered blunt-force trauma.

The boyfriend was watching the child while the mother was out, and when she returned, she found the child seriously injured, according to the release.

The child was transferred to Javon Bea Hospital in Rockford, Illinois, where she remained Monday, Sullivan said.

Lt. Charles Aagaard of the police investigations bureau said Horan did not admit to causing the injuries.

Aagaard said police are working with doctors to determine precisely what kind of injuries the baby suffered.

Aagaard said circumstances leading up to the injuries were undetermined as of Monday afternoon and still being investigated.

Horan is scheduled to next appear in court Monday, March 16.

This story was modified March 10, 2020, to reflect the below correction:

Because of a reporter's misinterpretation of a statement by an assistant district attorney in court Monday, The Gazette incorrectly reported the status of a Child Protective Services order against Steven M. Horan, 30, of Janesville on Page 1A on Tuesday.

The order for Horan not to have contact with his biological children was imposed after he was arrested Saturday and accused of causing serious injuries to a child who later died, Assistant District Attorney Rich Sullivan said.

Obituaries and death notices for March 10, 2020

Michael F. Ackerson

Lois A. Brellenthin

Phyllis C. Ehrenberg

David L. Elmer

Walter Price Floyd

Mitchell D. Fry

Mary Lea Hamilton

Scott D. Knepfel

Sally Ann Natter

Joseph William Phalin

Frances M. Rahn

Gerald William Tilley

Kathryn M. Tousey

Jarrett S. Uncapher

Stocks plummet amid coronavirus fears and oil-price crash

Stocks took their worst one-day beating on Wall Street since the global financial crisis of 2008 as a collapse in oil prices Monday combined with mounting alarm over what the coronavirus could do to the world economy.

The staggering losses, including a 7.8% tumble in the Dow Jones Industrial Average, immediately raised fears that a recession might be on the way in the U.S. and that the record-breaking 11-year bull market on Wall Street could be coming to an abrupt end in a way no one even imagined just a few months ago.

The drop was so sharp that it triggered the first automatic halt in trading in more than two decades. European stock indexes likewise registered their heaviest losses since the darkest days of the 2008 meltdown and are now in a bear market.

Together, the sell-offs reflected growing anxiety over the potential global economic damage from the coronavirus, which has infected more than 110,000 people worldwide and killed about 4,000 while prompting factory shutdowns, travel bans, closings of schools and stores, and cancellations of conventions and celebrations big and small.

“The market has had a crisis of confidence,” said Willie Delwiche, investment strategist at Baird.

The market slide came as Italy, the hardest-hit place in Europe, began enforcing a lockdown against 16 million people in the north, or one-quarter of the country’s population, and then announced that travel restrictions would be extended nationwide. Premier Giuseppe Conte said all people will have to demonstrate a valid reason to travel beyond where they live.

The turmoil in Italy—marked by masked police officers and soldiers checking travelers’ documents and restrictions that affected such daily activities as enjoying an espresso at a cafe counter or running to the grocery store—is expected to push the country into recession and weigh on the European economy.

Elsewhere around the world, Ireland went so far as to cancel St. Patrick’s Day parades, and Israel ordered all visitors quarantined just weeks before Passover and Easter, one of the busiest travel periods of the year.

In the U.S., a cruise ship with a cluster of coronavirus cases that forced it to idle off the California coast for days docked at Oakland as officials prepared to start bringing passengers to military bases for quarantine or return them to their home countries. The Grand Princess had more than 3,500 people aboard, 21 of them infected.

The market was also dragged down by another, intertwined development: Oil prices plunged nearly 25% after Russia refused to roll back production in response to virus-depressed demand and Saudi Arabia signaled it will ramp up its own output.

While low oil prices can translate into cheaper gasoline, they wreak havoc on energy companies and countries that count on petroleum revenue, including the No. 1 producer, the United States.

“People are very anxious and very uncertain. Then all of a sudden you throw in a wild card that we weren’t expecting and people just went, ‘Ah!’” said Randy Frederick, vice president of trading and derivatives at Charles Schwab.

He added: “A recession and a bear market are both a very realistic possibility right now.”

“The fear today is: Are the bears correct in talking about a recession around the corner from this?” said Quincy Krosby, chief market strategist at Prudential Financial. “Is this just about now? Is this just about the oil? Is this just about the virus? Or are we looking at a recession around the corner because of all of this?”

President Donald Trump met in the afternoon with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, economic adviser Larry Kudlow and other aides about a range of economic actions he could take. He also invited Wall Street executives to the White House on Wednesday to discuss the economic fallout from the epidemic.

On Wall Street, the drop in the S&P 500 triggered an automatic 15-minute market-wide trading halt by falling 7.4% in the first few minutes after the opening bell. The so-called circuit breaker has been triggered only once before, in 1997.

The S&P closed with a loss of 7.6%, its biggest one-day drop since Dec. 1, 2008. The Dow was down 2,013 points, or 7.8%, to 23,851. The Nasdaq gave up 7.3%.

The S&P 500 has fallen 18.9% from the record high it set Feb. 19 and has lost $5.3 trillion in value during that time. U.S. stocks are now uncomfortably close to entering a bear market, defined as a drop of 20% from their peak.

Italy’s stock index plunged 11.2%. Britain, France and Germany were down between 7.7% and 8.4%

The interest rate, or yield, on U.S. Treasury bonds fell to all-time lows as investors looking for a safe place kept putting money into them. Even as the return on investment sank closer and closer to zero. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note plunged to 0.59%. Up until last week, it had never been below 1%.

The carnage in the energy sector was particularly bad. With benchmark U.S. crude dropping to under $32 a barrel, the stock of Apache Corp. and Occidental Petroleum lost more than half its value. Exxon Mobil had its worst day since 2008, while Chevron had its second-biggest drop ever.

“We knew it was going to be a hot day,” said John Spensieri, head of U.S. equity trading at Stifel. He said the mood was “organized chaos” in the morning but that the trading halt achieved what it was supposed to by stopping the slide.

Despite the scary-looking red numbers flashing on CNBC and other news channels, some financial consultants advised ordinary investors to stick to their long-term plan and not panic.

Scott Heydt, a financial consultant at Heydt Air, said he expects the market will go back to normal, even though it could take a year or so. “It’s definitely not a comfortable time,” he said. “But people need to stop looking at their portfolios on their smartphones every two seconds if they don’t have a stomach for it.”

For most people, the coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover from the virus, as has already happened with about three-quarters of those infected in China.

While the crisis is easing in China, where the virus was first detected, fast-growing clusters have turned up in South Korea, Iran and Italy, and the caseload is growing in the United States. The number of people infected in the U.S. climbed to around 600, with 26 deaths, at least 19 of them associated with a single Seattle-area nursing home.

After initially taking an optimistic view on the virus, hoping it would remain mostly in China and cause just a short-term disruption, investors are realizing they probably underestimated the crisis.

Traders are increasingly betting the Federal Reserve will cut interest rates back to zero to help the virus-weakened economy. But doubts are rising about how effective lower rates can be this time. They can encourage people and companies to borrow, but they can’t restart factories, restaurants or theme parks shut down because people are quarantined.

The Fed has already cut its benchmark short-term rate to a range of 1% to 1.25%, leaving little room to cut more.