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Edgerton turns waste trees into lumber for education


The city of Edgerton lined its downtown streets with ash trees in the 1980s. The trees provided shade and beauty for many years.

Then the emerald ash borer invaded, slowly killing the ashes.

The city had to remove and store the big trees, a cost many cities face, City Administrator Ramona Flanigan noted. But Edgerton city government, Edgerton High School staff and students, and local businesses have turned the project into a win-win-win.

The city and school district stand to save money, and there’s even an added benefit to the environment. More on that later.

The city paid $25,375 last year to grind its brush pile, which accumulated over several years, into chips, Flanigan said. Now, some of the tree parts are being recycled.

Todd Babcock, tech teacher at Edgerton High School, had heard of other schools building kilns and transforming milled tree trunks into lumber for student projects.

Anthony Wahl 

Edgerton High School students Matthew Luchsinger, left, and Derek Smith paint boards that will be used in their newly created solar kiln. Once finished, the solar kiln will dry lumber donated by the city of Edgerton.

The city of Edgerton supplied the trees and wrote a Department of Natural Resources grant for $5,000 to pay some of the costs.

The city moved and cut the tree trunks, a vital part of the process, Babcock said.

Local company Edgerton Gear, which gives its employees paid leave for community service, paid for some of the work of its employee Brent Schroeder, who owns a portable lumber mill, to cut the wood into rough planks. The grant also paid for some of Schroeder’s time, Babcock said.

Babcock and his students, meanwhile, built a solar-powered kiln to dry the wood. They are putting finishing touches on the kiln this week.

Drying wood is crucial, Babcock said, because wood that is too moist will shrink, bend or twist. The kiln will get the planks down to 8% moisture so they can be used in student projects such as cabinetry, furniture and benches for the school.

All this has an immediate impact on woodworking classes, which, like builders and cabinet makers everywhere, are dealing with the shock of lumber prices that have soared by 230% over the past 12 months.

Anthony Wahl 

Edgerton High student Jeremiah Reed cuts a panel that will become part of a wood-drying kiln, seen behind him, that was under construction at the school Tuesday.

“With wood prices the way they are, I could see woodworking classes ending in some schools,” Babcock said. “This way, we’re self-sustaining.”

The kiln itself has a sloping roof that will be fitted with clear plastic panels. The kiln will absorb sunlight to heat the interior to as high as 180 degrees. Solar panels will power fans to circulate air through the wood.

The kiln, the base of which is 14 feet long and 8 feet wide, was built on a trailer donated by local business i90 Enterprises. Babcock figures it’ll take up to eight weeks to dry the wood. Students will monitor the wood’s progress.

Babcock hopes that eventually, the kiln will dry as much as 90% of the wood the school district is now buying for woodworking classes.

Matthew Luchsinger, a junior, was painting the kiln Tuesday. He likes working with his hands. and he likes the idea of his school producing its own wood.

“You don’t have to spend more money on other people to dry the wood. You can just do it yourself,” he said.

Junior Jeremiah Reed said the kiln project is fun: “It’s pretty interesting. I’ve never done anything like this before.”

Anthony Wahl 

Edgerton High School student Liam Punzel paints an interior wall of the solar kiln the technology education classes created.

Global benefit

Using urban tree wood is something of a trend, said the DNR’s Andy Stoltman said. The cities of Milwaukee, Stoughton and Eau Claire have programs to funnel their trees to manufacturers.

There’s even a nonprofit, Wisconsin Urban Wood, which connects wood-product makers to sources of city-grown trees.

Much of the interest is about how using the wood helps the environment.

When wood is chipped or just left in a pile, it slowly decomposes and releases carbon dioxide, explained Andy Stoltman of the state DNR’s Forest Economics and Ecology Section.

Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas. It traps heat in the atmosphere, contributing to global warming. But if the wood is made into a chair or bench, that carbon is locked up for the life of the object, which could be many decades, Stoltman said.

“To use ash trees in a way that carbon is not being emitted as quickly does a lot of good,” Stoltman said.

Anthony Wahl 

Technology teacher Todd Babcock, right, and student Jeremiah Reed work on a solar kiln currently under construction at Edgerton High School on Tuesday.

Obituaries and death notices for May 6, 2021

Barbara Jean Green

Thomas R. Kirchner Sr.

Randolph B. “Randy” Merwin

Melvin C. “Mel” North

Dorothy M. Thompson

Lydia J. Rubendall

Adelbert M. “Del” Sumpter

Official: Local tourism spending should improve after COVID-19 brought dip in 2020


Officials said tourism spending in Janesville dropped 26% in 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic hammered the local hospitality and tourism industry.

Despite down spending on lodging and at local tourism stops last year, the Janesville Area Convention & Visitors Bureau reported retail spending by visitors was a bright spot.

And the bureau’s director, Christine Rebout, told The Gazette that spring and summer 2021 could see a resurgence in tourism spending as draws such as youth sports tournaments make a comeback.

Overall tourism spending in Janesville last year totaled $110 million, a 26% drop compared to 2019, the convention and visitor’s bureau reported this week. That’s roughly in line with the 28% drop in tourism spending Rock County as a whole saw last year.

But the tourism group reported that visitor spending on retail slightly outpaced statewide averages. All told, retail spending for visitors totaled $34 million, and food and beverage sales were about $31 million, the group reported.

Rebout said based on the flow of new calls she has seen this spring from small and large bus tours, she expects to see a rebound, particularly in outdoor tourism. Local visitor focal points such as Janesville’s Rotary Botanical Gardens could see an uptick in foot traffic via an increase in bus tours coming into the city, Rebout said.

The most likely uptick in visitor spending will come this spring and summer as youth sports tournaments return. Families visiting for summer youth baseball tourneys have been a big score in the past for hotels in Janesville.

Rebout has said in the past that even tournaments held in neighboring metros of Rockford, Illinois, and Madison tend to supply the hotel sector here with an uptick in overnight stays.

The tourism industry supported about 1,000 jobs last year.

This week, the Tour of America’s Dairyland announced it will visit Janesville for two days of pro-am bicycle races in mid-June. That comes after the Dairyland tour scrubbed its entire race schedule last summer during the pandemic.

Its previous two times in Janesville, 2018 and 2019, the Dairyland tour held one day of races. One local organizer said both days of this year’s Dairyland race stop, known as the Town Square Gran Prix, could bring 2,500 spectators, plus hundreds of racers, to Janesville’s downtown each day.

The event in past years hasn’t been a big draw for hotel stays because it runs just for one day, but a multiday event could give the local hotel and restaurant sectors a boost.

Rebout’s office now is in the process of coordinating with perennial tour stops to learn which ones have begun resuming tours as more of the population gets vaccinated against COVID-19.

A number of local manufacturers are hotspots for visitors to tour, but many of those facilities suspended factory tours last year during the pandemic.

Local photographer Shelley Schmidt lies down to capture the colorful tulips from a lower angle while outside Hedberg Public Library in Janesville on Wednesday afternoon.