Graham Kilmer
MKE County

Reimagining Kosciuszko Community Center

Parks developing plans for redeveloped Kozy, but elected officials still haven't funded a new air conditioning system.

By - Jan 26th, 2022 02:45 pm
The Kosciuszko Park pond and community center. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

The Kosciuszko Park pond and community center. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Like many assets and amenities in the Milwaukee County Parks system, the Kosciuszko Community Center, located in the park of the same name at 2201 S. 7th St., needs investment.

But, the question facing parks officials and county board supervisors – the latter having power over the annual parks budget and capital allocations – is: how much to spend and on what?

The center has long needed a new heating, ventilation and air conditioning system, which is estimated to cost approximately $3.7 million. Planning for the new system was completed in 2015 and funding for its construction has yet to be budgeted.

Specifically, it was the air conditioning, and more specifically the chiller, that went kaput. Without funding for a new system, the parks department’s skilled trades staff came up with a temporary solution for the system. It was this corps of trades staff that managed to keep the chiller running for 35 years, despite it having a life expectancy of 15 to 20 years.

Parks estimates it would cost approximately $11 million to replace the entire Kosciuszko Community Center as is. A parks department report from June 2021 estimated the community center, built in 1981, would have more than $10 million worth of deferred and planned maintenance over the next 20 years.

“In light of the limited resources available to Milwaukee County, the Parks department has initiated a planning effort to determine the soundest approach for long-term success for the Kosciuszko Community Center,” according to a recent parks report to the county board.

There is no funding in place for a new community center, but there isn’t even funding for a new air conditioning system either. Parks worked with Quorum Architects to develop several plans for the future of the community center based on input from members of the surrounding community.

Quorum’s study looked at recently built community centers in areas similar to Milwaukee. Allyson Nemec, principal design architect with Quorum, presented the findings and several options for a new community center to the county board’s Committee on Parks, Energy and Environment Committee Tuesday.

After soliciting public input at a number of public meetings, the results show that sports and recreation are the primary interests for community members at the facility, with activities like full-court basketball, soccer and weight training topping the list.

Programming around arts and culture, and youth and adult academics, were also popular among nearby residents. There was also interest in there being space for the county to provide social services, the most popular of which was a drop-in childcare center.

If the county was to redevelop the community center to meet the interests and needs of the community it would need nearly twice as much space as is currently available, approximately 44,000 square feet; whereas the current facility has approximately 27,000 square feet of programmatic space.

Quorum developed four initial plans that ranged from remodeling and minor renovations to the existing building, large and small additions tearing down the existing building and constructing a new facility. Each plan was developed with the programmatic interests of the nearby residents in mind.

These were narrowed down to two options. The first entails renovations of the existing building, small additions and an expanded gymnasium. The second would have the county demolish and build a new facility.

The renovate and expand option is estimated to cost between $17 and $20 million and an entirely new facility is expected to cost between $29 and $33 million. 

Supervisor Sheldon Wasserman, committee chair of the parks committee, said he thought remodeling was probably the better plan to explore further. “We could get a beautifully refurbished building for $10 million less, and it meets all the needs of the community and it’s remodeled, ya know, maybe that’s the better way to go,” he said.

The initial plans for this project include an upgraded weight room, a new boxing and mixed martial arts facility, a remodeled and expanded gymnasium, space for dance and fitness classes, an upgraded kitchen for cooking classes, a childcare center and a food pantry among other things.

The next phase of planning will develop estimates for the cost to operate a redeveloped community center such as this.

While there is no funding for this project, it is nonetheless an important community asset that will need millions in investments from the county just to maintain it as it is. 

But it’s not the only park facility or asset that needs significant investment. In 2018, the Wisconsin Policy Forum released a report on capital needs in the parks system: “Assets that the county should replace within the next 10 years included 85% of parking lots and service yards, 75% of walkways, 73% of parkways, 54% of rated Oak Leaf Trail segments and basketball courts, 48% of tennis courts, and 47% of large buildings.”

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Categories: MKE County, Parks

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