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Lawmaker pushes institute land for UWM school

Sean Ryan

The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee is awash in property options for the new School of Freshwater Sciences, but a state legislator wants a commitment now.

The offices and educational space for the new school should be built next to the Great Lakes Water Institute, which is a university research operation in Milwaukee, said Rep. Pedro Colon, D-Milwaukee.

“It is probably some of our best land,” he said. “It is best equipped to handle it.”

Earlier this year, the university proposed building an up to 50,000-square-foot, two-story School of Freshwater Sciences on the Lake Michigan shoreline to replace the Pieces of Eight restaurant building. The university on Friday dropped that plan.

That’s fine, Colon said, because the plan strayed from the original intent to build a school connected to the water institute. Now, he said, it is time for the university to get back on track.

The school is considering many sites, including the property next to the water institute, said Tom Luljak, the university’s vice chancellor for public affairs. But the water institute, 600 E. Greenfield Ave., needs street and other infrastructure upgrades before the university can commit to building there, he said.

“We’re not ruling in or ruling out anything at this point,” Luljak said.

Colon acknowledged the infrastructure shortcomings and called on city officials to support any projects needed for the School of Freshwater Sciences.

The water institute has land to accommodate the new school, even if UW-Milwaukee builds a planned 50,000-square-foot addition to the institute for more research labs, said Val Klump, the institute’s director.

But, he said, there are other options around the Milwaukee harbor for UW-Milwaukee to consider. For example, Klump said, the university could shift its attention to the vacant and blighted Solvay Coke & Gas site, a 46-acre property across the street from the water institute.

“It’s a real opportunity, I think, for the university and for the region,” Klump said. “It’s worth scratching your head over, you know what I mean, getting it right.”

Colon said development of the school next to the water institute creates opportunities for the university to acquire and redevelop some surrounding land, including parts of the Solvay Coke site.

The university will select a new site within three months, Luljak said. Classes through the School of Freshwater Sciences will begin next fall, he said, but students can use existing university space before a new building is constructed.

Luljak would not discuss other properties under consideration.

“Some people have come forward since we first proposed the school,” he said, “but we’re not going to get into a public discussion or debate of each site that is available to us.”

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