The executive director of Milwaukee County’s Charles Allis Art Museum and the Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum holds her office window together with a paper clip.
Maria Costello said the frame rotted away from the window years ago, so she jammed the paper clip into the wood to keep the pane in place. It is one example, she said, of problems she has not been able to persuade the county to fix at the buildings in Milwaukee.
Costello said she has been asking for some of the same repairs since 2008 through the county’s five-year capital spending process. According to her latest request, she is not adding anything to her list “as it seems futile since the prior projects still have not been approved.”
She said she is worried her requests will be denied again this year.
“Frankly, the staff worries about it all the time,” she said, “what will happen to the buildings.”
The Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors’ Parks, Energy and Environment Committee will hear Costello’s request Tuesday. Supervisor Gerry Broderick, chairman of the committee, said he shares Costello’s frustration over the lack of spending at the museums.
“It seems to be the trend, and they’ll get the money only when there’s an emergency,” he said, “and that is unfair.”
When a boiler at the Charles Allis building failed, Broderick said, that was an emergency. He helped amend the 2014 budget to include money for the replacement, but even that was a fight.
Costello said that project is not complete. Temperatures in the third-floor offices are in the 50-degree range, she said, and fall into the 30s on the lower floors.
“People think that we’re kidding, and we’re not,” she said during a phone interview Friday. “It’s cold. I’m sitting here with a blanket thrown over myself.”
The parks committee will forward Costello’s request to the county’s Capital Improvements Committee, which prioritizes requests based on a county-imposed borrowing cap. In 2013, the committee received requests for at least $100 million in projects and had a cap of about $35 million.
Comptroller Scott Manske, chairman of the Capital Improvements Committee, did not respond to a request for comment before deadline Friday afternoon.
The county executive has a separate process for prioritizing capital projects. Brendan Conway, communications director for County Executive Chris Abele, said he had not seen Costello’s request.
Despite the different processes, Conway said, the county executive recommends borrowing the county’s maximum each year, but life and safety projects take priority.
Another possible solution, Broderick said, would be to eliminate the borrowing cap, which is “unrealistic.”
Supervisor Deanna Alexander, a parks committee member, said she also would consider eliminating the cap. Raising the borrowing limit to pay for problems that already exist, she said, would be easy to support.
“The county’s capital needs for improvements on just property and equipment that we already own,” she said, “are immense.”
Costello said she understands the county does not have enough money to solve all of its problems. But, she said, the county needs to invest enough money to keep its buildings from falling down.
“We have a roof that is leaking pretty badly” in the Charles Allis building, she said. “In fact, when the snow started to melt a couple weeks ago, it looked like the rainforest.”Follow @bkevit
Video by Maria Costello