Ideas abound for UW-Green Bay Marinette campus uses

By: 
Shirley Prudhomme

MARINETTE – For the first time in many months the agenda for Marinette County Board’s Infrastructure Committee meeting on Wednesday, July 10 made no provision for discussing possible future uses for the UW-Green Bay Marinette campus if and when the UW-Green Bay lease is renegotiated to provide only minimal space for the university.

UW-Green Bay gave notice over a year ago that it will no longer be holding in-person classes in Marinette and will use a small amount of space in the campus buildings and the Theatre on the Bay, which they will continue to occupy and operate.

Over a dozen members of the public plus several County Supervisors who are not members of the committee attended the Infrastructure Committee meeting on June 6 to obtain information or offer suggestions in regard to future campus uses.

Due to the large amount of public interest, Committee Chair Roger Allen waived regular committee rules and opened the floor for over an hour of open discussion.

Rich asked the Committee to be sure to inform the public of plans to discuss the issue at any scheduled meeting.

In a text message to the committee, Supervisor Ken Hanson suggested the county should put the property out for bids but retain the right to reject any or all bids for any reason, or no reason at all.

LeFebvre asked the committee if they felt discussion on the UW campus issue should be included on every committee agenda, or only when there was a specific need, for example a new proposal. He said the county is no longer on a fast track to find alternative uses since UW-Green Bay has not notified them that they will be terminating their lease.

He was unsure if or when the county would get any state grant funding to help repurpose the campus. The county has a contract with Bay Lakes Regional Planning and a study is already under way for the UW Field House property in connection with the possibility the YMCA will be taking it over to replace their facility in Menominee. UW-Green Bay terminated its lease for the Field House and adjoining property about two years ago and the River Cities Pool Association has operating it under contract with the county.

Continued Youth Hockey use of its fields on the Field House property was a primary concern of several members of the public. The committee was told some 700 to 800 youth athletes participate in the program.

Jenni Campbell, who is CEO/mission director for the Greater Marinette- Menominee YMCA, said that organization would be happy to work with the Youth Hockey Association or any other community partners if their decision is to make the Field House their new YMCA facility. Later discussion was that the hockey fields might need to be moved slightly to facilitate a possible expansion of the Field House itself if the ‘Y’ decision is to relocate there. Other options for the Youth Hockey Association are two soccer fields behind the Marinette High School building according to LeFebvre.

Guarisco said there is plenty of room to relocate the playing fields to the west, but felt if the Y wants to expand the building, that must come first.

“We’re looking at whatever it takes to build this out and make it of greater value to the community,” LeFebvre declared.

Supervisor Popp suggested creating a survey monkey on the county web site to collect public input. She also suggested getting input from M&M Chamber of Commerce members, and drafting a request for proposals to facilitate hiring as consultant if and when the possible Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDEC) grant money comes through. She asked if Bay Lakes Regional Planning would work with the NEW Development agency, and was told they do.

LeFebvre said a SurveyMonkey is easy to create, so that could be done. As to hiring a consultant, he said he would like to see a study of what is in the buildings including everything from equipment to general information on the condition of the roof.

Kim Brooks, who has been a member of the UW-Marinette Foundation Board of Directors and is a long-time member of the Marinette County Industrial Development Corporation Board of Directors, suggested hiring a consultant to look into economic development possibilities for the campus.

To other comments and questions from the public, LeFebvre was doubtful that the UW-Marinette campus itself could be split into three lots. He noted there are 112 marked parking spots on the campus, while the theater has 300 seats, and wondered where those attending events at the theater would park if the property were divided.

LeFebvre had reported on numerous other groups interested in the campus, including the Inter Tribunal Council that involves all Twelve Tribes of northeast Wisconsin and Michigan, which could establish a school there.

Rich noted the Wisconsin Senate had just passed a bill providing funding for PFAS studies, and said Marinette is the third largest PFAS site in the nation, but there is no laboratory anywhere close for PFAS testing. She added the Federal EPA had recently designated some of the PFAS chemicals as hazardous substances and suggested looking into grant opportunities for funding a PFAS lab.

LeFebvre suggested putting off further discussion on future campus and field house uses until the August committee meeting, when they would know more about the pending YMCA lease or purchase possibilities,

“There are a lot of good ideas out there, but the problem is finding the money to pay for them,” he declared. He said testing labs are a good idea, but very expensive to set up.

There was more discussion on the $2 million designated for WEDEC grants to study new uses for the campuses being abandoned by the UW system, but Guarisco was doubtful. He commented the politicians had passed a bill that made them look good, but wondered if any of the affected communities will see actual money.

Gruszynski, a long-time state legislator, commented that Guarisco was “pretty much right.”

LeFebvre said Marinette County is in this for the long haul, and after brief discussion he said he will bring every proposal he gets to the committee, provided the interested party gives permission.

Rhude felt the county should take a sharper look at the lease agreement with the UW system, and felt the county should approach WEDEC now in order to have input when the distribution rules are written. He repeated former statements that the campus is the perfect site for a campus property and the attached Runnoe Park for use as a National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR) Center. 

Oitzinger discussed the possibility of partnerships for the campus and the Field House, with the City of Marinette, YMCA, Marinette County,  and other non-profit organizations.

Brooks said she was not as doubtful as Guarisco about the possibility of a WECED grant, but felt regardless, “...we need to maximize our opportunities there...These are community buildings and should be put to the best and highest use to benefit the community.” She suggested looking into uses that would promote economic development.

The City of Marinette had expressed interest in using part of the campus library building for city offices, but has since decided to go elsewhere. The city had asked that Runnoe Park be given to the city to guarantee that it will be kept as a public park and not be sold for some other use. 

LeFebvre said before the county does anything to change ownership of the park they should know what the rest of the campus will be used for, and if the shoreline property could have a value to whoever will be using the rest of the campus. He suggested perhaps a school might want to do waterfront studies there, or do water testing activities.

After over an hour of discussing the campus and Field House, Allen closed the public discussion and the committee moved on to other business.

Work continues on security for the Judicial Center, which is on the agenda for the committee’s July 10 meeting. Doors were being installed between the courthouse and the judicial center on the first and second floors, and the main judicial center entry security area was being constructed.  Key fob access installation was scheduled for July 15-19, and additional security cameras were being installed to cover blind areas.

There were monthly reports from Highway, Parks and Forestry departments and he DNR reported 98% of time sharing for timber work and wildlife habitat had been completed.

Work on the Sustainable Forestry Grant was continuing as time permits. Tax deed properties are scheduled to be cleaned out and/or razed during the first three weeks of July and the tax deed Auction of properties taken for unpaid taxes will be held on Friday, Aug. 30.

Forest Administrator Ryan Bourassa updated the Committee on the proposed Dual Sports Riders trail system and hoped he would have more to report at the next meeting.

The committee was told that Matthew Shruck was meeting with an internet provider to possibly extend Camp Bird’s internet range, and the Camp Bird challenge course had been updated and passed inspection the previous week.

Overall County Park income was down $264,681 from 2023.

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