Repair list could crush Milwaukee County budget (PHOTO SLIDE SHOW)
Some of the more than 900 buildings owned by Milwaukee County are in such disrepair they soon will have to be mothballed or demolished, according to several county supervisors.
“Without a reasonable capital budget, what are we supposed to do?” said Gerry Broderick, a supervisor who represents the east side of Milwaukee. “There are some that are in such bad shape that they’ll have to be razed.
“The problem is we don’t have money to tear them down.”
The county has tried for more than a decade to get a handle on the condition of its buildings. Despite those efforts, there is no comprehensive list of properties and needed repairs, said Jerome Heer, the county’s director of audits.
“That is the only way there can be a conscious, public debate about what needs to be done,” he said.
The death last summer of Jared Kellner, 15, put a spotlight on Milwaukee’s public buildings and raised questions of whether deferred maintenance played a role in the tragedy. Kellner was leaving the O’Donnell Park parking garage for Summerfest with friends June 24 when a 13 1/2-ton decorative concrete panel fell on him.
Two other incidents on county property — a chunk of concrete reportedly falling off the County Courthouse and fiberboard panel falling and injuring a person at General Mitchell International Airport — resulted in a demand for an inspection of all county-owned buildings that had not been inspected in the past five years.
The inspections of 106 buildings identified an estimated $8.5 million in needed repairs, $3.4 million of which were deemed critical. Beyond the inspected buildings, Heer said, Milwaukee County is facing nearly $200 million in repair work for buildings and pools.
Heer recalled being stunned when he walked through the county’s War Memorial Center with inspectors. He said he looked up at the ceiling and saw a lot of drop pans to catch rain from the leaky roof.
The parquet floor in another section of the center gave the auditor pause as well.
“They’ve just been lucky,” Heer said, “that the buckling floor hasn’t caused the collapse of shelves holding some amazing ceramic art pieces.”
Of no less concern is the condition of buildings that are not generally thought of as the stars of the county’s property portfolio. There are 500 buildings in the park system, said County Supervisor Theo Lipscomb.
Furthermore, he said, buildings such as the Clinton Rose Senior Center, at 3045 N. Dr. Martin Luther King Drive, have precariously hanging electrical fixtures and uneven sidewalks.
“The maintenance in some of these buildings has been deferred to the point where they are just rotting,” Lipscomb said. “It could cost 10 to 15 times as much to restore as to build.”
Money to pay for an inventory and assessment of county-owned buildings is in this year’s budget but is in danger of disappearing. The county included in that budget money expected to come from the sale of county land in Wauwatosa to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee for $13.5 million.
UW-Milwaukee agreed to give the county $5 million by the end of February, $5 million in 2012 and the rest in equal parts for three years. Now UW-Milwaukee has asked to delay the second $5 million payment for two years.
Jim Schmitt, the supervisor who represents the Wauwatosa area, said the delay puts the county in a tough position. If the county denies the request, it might not get the $5 million supervisors agreed to spend on projects in 2011 as well as the money in 2012. If they agree to the delay, some critical projects will have to be put off for another year, he said.
The County Board is expected vote on UWM’s request Thursday.
Broderick said $1.17 million the county expects to get this year will be used to create the comprehensive list of repairs.
“If the sale doesn’t go through,” he said, “we’ll have a $5 million hole in this year’s budget.”