GOP lawmakers release funds for communities losing 2-year UW schools » Urban Milwaukee

GOP lawmakers release funds for communities losing 2-year UW schools » Urban Milwaukee

A newspaper page hangs on a billboard Wednesday, March 8, 2023, at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville Richland in Richland Center, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

Communities that lost their two-year University of Wisconsin affiliate will be eligible to apply for grants of up to $2 million.

The state Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee on Tuesday unanimously approved $20 million in funding for the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation for a grant program to help communities redevelop shuttered campuses.

Six two-year campuses in the Universities of Wisconsin system are closed or have announced closures due to declining enrollment and budget shortfalls. The closures affect communities in Outagamie, Fond du Lac, Washington, Richland, Marinette and Waukesha counties.

The grants can be used by cities, towns, villages or counties for redevelopment costs, including planning and demolition expenses, according to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau. The grants can also be used for projects on former campuses that help create jobs, develop the local workforce, support small businesses or increase housing, according to the fiscal bureau.

The Community Assistance Funding Act requires WEDC to award grants to Fond du Lac, Washington, Marinette and Richland counties if they meet requirements, the Finance Office said.

The money had been on hold since March when the governor… Tony Evers signed a bipartisan bill that would allocate those funds to communities affected by the closure of college branches.

In May, Evers and WEDC asked the Legislature to release the funds, calling it “critically important” for communities to find new life for shuttered campuses. Evers also called on the Legislature to increase investment in the state’s university system to prevent further layoffs and closures.

Now that the funding has been released, WEDC Secretary Mrs. Hughes the agency hopes to have grant applications open by August 1.

“We recognize that communities are looking for these funds and we want to get off the ground as quickly as possible,” she said.

Hughes also said making the funds available gives the state an opportunity to support communities that are experiencing “major changes” as a result of campus closures.

She added that local authorities are not only concerned about buildings and properties, but are also grappling with the additional challenges of losing students.

“We want to invest in these communities to make sure they have the resources to get through this change,” she said.

The Joint Finance Committee vote came just days before the first meeting of the state Legislative Council Study Committee on the Future of the University of Wisconsin System. The committee will examine demographic trends affecting state colleges and assess the needs of universities.

Biology student Aliyah Sander studies in the student center between classes Wednesday, March 8, 2023, at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville Richland in Richland Center, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

At Tuesday’s meeting, a state representative. Deb AndracaD-Whitefish Bay, said she was pleased the commission was taking action to provide assistance to affected communities.

But she also called on the Legislature to make sure the remaining campuses are “fully funded” because they are the lifeblood of Wisconsin’s economy.

“I would like to see more support from this committee in the future and in the next budget,” Andraca said. “That means that when we have requests — when there are things that need to be done and there is money in the budget — we don’t hold them back and make campuses wait a very long time.”

Communities already planning for the future

The latest two-year campus to announce a closure is UW-Oshkosh Fox Cities in Menasha, whose buildings are jointly owned by Outagamie and Winnebago counties. In-person classes there will end next June.

The school’s board of trustees met last month to begin discussing the school’s future, but according to WGBA-TV, the meeting ended with more questions than answers.

In Fond du Lac County, in-person classes at UW-Oshkosh Fond du Lac officially ended in May, and officials have been discussing the next steps for the campus since last year.

District Director Sam Kaufman said he unveiled a plan last month that would transform the two-year college into what is being called the Fond du Lac County Campus.

Some of the classrooms will be converted into state and county offices, the performing arts center will be turned into a community events center, the gymnasium will be turned into a sports complex and some of the land will be sold for housing development, Kaufman said.

The art building will be converted into a training center for corrections officers, a county executive said, complementing the Fond du Lac County Sheriff’s Office’s use-of-force training simulator.

“It would be open not only to Fond du Lac County law enforcement, but we would expand it to virtually every law enforcement agency from Milwaukee all the way to Green Bay,” Kaufman said.

Kaufman said the Fond du Lac County Board will vote on the plan later this month. He said the proposal would generate enough revenue to be self-sustaining and would not be a burden on local taxpayers.

While the $2 million redevelopment grant won’t cover the entire cost of the project, Kaufman said knowing the county can count on state assistance will make it easier to develop plans for the facility.

“I’ve already made decisions and plans on how to fund the rest of it,” Kaufman said. “The $2 million will definitely help. It won’t be the answer for us, but it will definitely help us.”

Listen to the WPR report

Joint Finance Committee releases aid for communities losing 2-year UW schools was originally published by Wisconsin Public Radio.