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Contamination clouds Milwaukee water school (UPDATE)

By Sean Ryan

Cleanliness comes before construction for those planning a University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee School of Freshwater Sciences project.

But money comes first.

“We have to find the money,” said state Rep. Pedro Colon, D-Milwaukee, “and we have to make sure that those funds fit for the required projects. So, technically, it has to fit together.”

State and Milwaukee officials are searching for money, Colon said, to pay for environmental cleanup, road and utility projects on a Greenfield Avenue site in Milwaukee that is the front-runner for the three-story, $50 million water research school.

The school would be built near the Great Lakes Water Institute and next to the Milwaukee harbor.

The environmental cleanup is tied to site contamination caused by a large pile of coal across the street, said Tom Luljak, the UW-Milwaukee’s vice chancellor for public affairs. The university also needs Greenfield Avenue to be rebuilt before school construction can start, he said.

“We’re not saying that it is a stumbling block at this point,” Luljak said. “They are simply items that need to be resolved.”

Luljak said a plan to work out the issues could be unveiled in January.

But finding the appropriate state grants could be a problem, Colon said. The state’s various grant programs have restrictions on which types of projects get money, he said. For example, the segment of Greenfield may not qualify for Wisconsin Department of Transportation grants that only can be spent on state highways or roads that connect to the interstate, Colon said.

The University of Wisconsin Board of Regents on Friday unanimously approved the plan to build the UW-Milwaukee school. But UW-Milwaukee is not locked into the site and could still consider other possibilities if there is no way to fix the environmental problems and pay for the other projects, Luljak said.

“It just brings us one step closer to a significant expansion of UWM’s capacity to do water research,” Luljak said.

The water school project also requires approval from the Wisconsin State Building Commission, which will consider the project in early 2010. The project also must go to the full Legislature for approval.

“There’s a lot of moving parts, and this was one of the things that had to happen,” Colon said of Friday’s approval. “I’m just glad that it did happen so we can move on to other concerns.”

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Full slate

The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee School of Freshwater Sciences is one of five major projects, together valued at $240 million, the university has scheduled to start between 2009 and 2015. The other four projects, which have not gone to a UW Board of Regents vote, are:

* Design and build a 120-foot water research boat to replace the Neeskay vessel. The new boat will be used in research at the new School of Freshwater Sciences

* phase one of a project to add research buildings to the UW-Milwaukee main campus

* Build a new engineering campus and business park on 72 acres in Wauwatosa

* a new School of Public Health building that could be built in the Park East corridor in Milwaukee

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