Graham Kilmer
MKE County

Kosciuszko Park Center May Be Expanded

Repairs, expansion of dormant community center could cost $33.8 million.

By - Aug 25th, 2022 11:29 am
The Kosciuszko Park pond and community center. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

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

In July, the Milwaukee County Parks produced a list of projects it would like funding for in 2023, and it included the long neglected Kosciuszko Community Center.

The $45.2 million list of projects was not a realistic request, given that the department is jockeying for funding with other departments and the amount of money the county can spend on capital projects is severely limited by its revenue troubles. The county has a self-imposed limit on the amount of debt it can issue in a single year – debt being one of the primary funding sources for capital projects – and the amount of debt financing the county is expected to have in 2023 is approximately $45.8 million.

But the list does accurately portray the scope of capital needs in the county parks system, given that it has a maintenance backlog estimated at somewhere in the neighborhood of half a billion dollars.

In 2023, the county is asking for $4.7 million to fund design work for an expanded and renovated Kosciuszko Community Center. The county has been working on initial planning and community engagement for a new community center there since 2020.

What parks has ended up with is a plan to renovate, and significantly expand the community center, constructing two large additions and doubling the programming space in the building. The latest project cost estimates, along with the cost of much needed repairs, put the bill at approximately $33.8 million.

The community center was built in 1981 at 2201 S. 7th  St. in Kosciuszko Park, which itself is located within Milwaukee’s Lincoln Village neighborhood. At 58,000 square feet it has a fitness center and weight room, a boxing gym, gymnasium and community space. Parks has calculated the replacement value of the building to be $11 million, but the department has also estimated it will need more than $10 million in maintenance over the next two decades.

Deferred maintenance at the building has affected its utility for the community. The HVAC system has needed replacing for more than a decade. A new system was planned and designed in 2015, but the project has never been funded. In 2019, electrical issues caused parks to temporarily close the facility.

Parks contracted with Quorum Architects to begin community engagement and preliminary planning began in 2020. The community strongly indicated an interest in increased sports and recreation space, and arts and culture programming. There was also a strong desire for the community center to offer a drop-in child care service.

Two options for the community center were presented to the Milwaukee County Board earlier this year, one of which entailed demolishing and building a new facility. Sup. Sheldon Wasserman, chair of the board’s Committee on Parks and Culture, indicated interest in pursuing renovation and expansion of the existing facility, as it was the cheaper of the two options.

An initial rough cost estimate for this plan put it between $17 and $20 million. The latest estimate for phased, occupied construction of the new facility is $32.1 million. This, plus approximately $1.7 million in much needed repairs brings the total cost to $33.8 million, according to a March project cost summary from Quorum.

Preliminary floor plans for a renovated and expanded Kosciuszko Community Center.

Preliminary floor plans for a renovated and expanded Kosciuszko Community Center.

Quorum’s initial planning for the project, based on community feedback, shows the new community center would include a bigger weight room, a new boxing and mixed martial arts facility, a renovated gymnasium, a dancing and fitness classroom, a new kitchen for cooking classes, new classrooms, makerspace, rooms for tutoring, drop-in childcare, a food pantry, wellness space and social services offices to connect residents with resources and assistance.

The project is proposed to be constructed in four phases. The first phase would involve repairs to the building addressing immediate life safety concerns. During the second phase, improvements would be made to the existing building and site.

Then, work on the major expansions of the building would begin. Phase three would see the construction of a two-story addition on the northwest side of the building to expand the first-floor weight room and add additional classroom space on the second floor. It would also involve renovation of multi-purpose spaces on the first floor.

During the final phase, an even larger addition would be built on the northeast corner of the building to provide a larger boxing and mixed martial arts facility with spectator space that can view both the boxing facility and the gymnasium, the latter being renovated along with the existing locker room facilities.

In May, when Quorum presented its final planning study to the board, Sup. Dyango Zerpa, who represents the district, said “because of sheer geographical location… this is a community center that serves the Latino community.” Noting the maintenance needs of the facility, specifically the HVAC system, he said, “for whatever reason it wasn’t addressed immediately and it should have been, knowing the level of importance that this community center holds to the community.” He said the disrepair there has instead “festered to the point that we now have a multi-million dollar problem.” Zerpa told his colleagues then that he would pursue advancement of the project.

If the $4.7 million in funding for design work makes it into the 2023 budget, a parks official said construction could, ideally, begin in 2025.

Categories: MKE County, Parks, Weekly

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