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Giving to the Nations breaks ground on future food pantry site

RACINE — About a half-dozen young adults on Monday took turns working a front-end loader, breaking up an asphalt parking lot to make way for a green space.

The Great Lakes Community Conservation Corps trainees were breaking ground on the future site of Giving To the Nations’ food pantry and community center, called A Place of Provision, at 1701 12th St., the former site of the J&W Drive In, which closed in the early 2000s.

The plan is to rebuild the southeastern corner of the lot for parking, break up the rest of the paved space and convert it to green space. Feeding the Nations has teamed up with the Root-Pike Watershed Initiative and BrightView Landscapes, a landscaping firm with an office in Milwaukee, to plan the green space.

Great Lakes CCC provides training opportunities for young people while doing projects related to water quality and habitat management. The group offered its services to Giving to the Nations for free.

Pastor Lynn Nys, a Giving to the Nations board member, called the collaboration between the groups “a win-win.”

“It’s a real pleasure to have our site be used as a training site for them,” she said. “It’s exciting that we can partner with another outreach in Racine to get it done.”

Nys said collaboration is key to the mission of the pantry.

“The goal of this property is to not only have the food pantry happening on the interior of the space, but have other community outreaches in the exterior of the space,” Nys said.

Inside work

Giving to the Nations has been hard at work fixing up the former drive-in’s building. The roof has been repaired, new walls installed and plumbing installed to provide running water.

Nys said the organization is working on getting the furnace up and running and a Racine-area church has pledged to replace the building’s broken windows next month.

According to Nys, the biggest obstacle preventing it from opening is the decrepit parking lot. She and other members of the organization are hoping the recent warm weather will hold so they can repave.

Nys is optimistic they’ll be ready to open the pantry by the end of this year.

Fourth Fest seeks solution to float needs amid Machinery Row plan change

RACINE — The organization behind Racine’s annual Fourth of July parade is looking for a solution for float creators as the city plans to demolish one of the buildings where that activity has been housed in recent years.

The city decided to change course on a proposed riverfront development plan known as Machinery Row and now plans to raze the buildings within that area along Water Street, east of Marquette Street. Now, the Fourth Fest of Greater Racine board, which plans the Fourth of July parade and fireworks show, worries it will lose the Water Street building where some of the floats are built and stored. The leaders of the organization are asking city officials to help them come up with a solution to maintain the caliber of celebration that has been presented for more than 80 years.

David Maack, the president of the Fourth Fest board and a former alderman, said the parade floats require a building with tall doors because of the size of the floats. He said the the organization has requested the city wait to demolish the 1010 Water St. building until it’s necessary so that the parade group has time to work out its float needs.

Some people affiliated with the parade approached the City Council at its Nov. 21 meeting to ask that the issue be addressed.

Alderman Sandy Weidner, who represents Racine’s 6th District, requested that the council’s Committee of the Whole discuss the matter. Dennis Wiser, the 10th District alderman and council president, said he would schedule the issue for a discussion.

Building ownership

Mayor Cory Mason said the ownership situation for the buildings presents some complications at this time, because the city’s Redevelopment Authority has not yet taken possession of them. Without jurisdiction over the property, he said, the city cannot make decisions about occupants.

“It’s a timing issue, and it’s a possession issue,” he said.

Maack said he understands the city’s long-term plan for redeveloping the area and believes the council will make a reasonable decision.

City Administrator James Palenick said the city anticipates demolition in the area will start in late spring, but no firm dates have been set for when any individual building will come down.

Palenick said the city hopes to also find a solution that fulfills everyone’s goals.

“The key is, we want to make sure they can continue doing what they do, but do so in a place that won’t be threatened in the future,” he said.

Pete Wicklund /   



Time to make a decision: Unified middle school choice starts Friday

RACINE — The application period for Racine Unified School District’s new middle school choice model is kicking off Friday, and district officials want families to consider their options and make a choice before the window closes at the end of the day on Jan. 15.

The application window is the same one families have used to apply for spots in the district’s other choice schools.

The difference for middle school-age students, explained Unified spokesperson Stacy Tapp, is that this year the district wants everyone to make a choice.

As part of the process, the district is targeting both the families of fifth-graders as well as families with students in sixth and seventh grades.

The move — dubbed “My School, My Choice” — represents a shift from a current model in which most students in grades six through eight are educated at three-year middle schools, to one in which most are either attending a K-through-eighth-grade or sixth-through-12th-grade campus that they select.

Under the new model, those students can opt for their designated boundary school — the soon-to-be K-through-eighth campuses of Gifford, Jerstad-Agerholm or Mitchell — or have the chance to lottery into the K-through-eighth Gilmore Fine Arts; the sixth-through-12th-grade REAL School; the sixth-through-12th Walden; or Starbuck, which will become a sixth-through-eighth International Baccalaureate School, because the IB program will be moving from McKinley to Starbuck.

The changes are part of a larger effort to address declining enrollment across the district’s middle schools, while also addressing school capacity, facility conditions and poor achievement scores. Half of the six Unified schools rated by the state as failing during the 2016-17 school year were middle schools.

“We want everybody to make a choice. If they want to go or (stay within) their boundary school, we want them to make that choice. If they don’t want to go their boundary school they have four other options,” Tapp said.


As part of its outreach efforts, the district will be holding two informational fairs at which families can learn more about their choices and how to apply. The first fair is slated to take place from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday at Gilmore Middle School, 2330 Northwestern Ave. The second from 5:30-8:30 p.m. on Tuesday at Starbuck Middle School, 1516 Ohio St.

Once the choice process officially kicks off on Friday, families can hop online and select their top three school choices.

Elementary and middle schools will have public computers set up in their front offices that parents can use to complete the choice process. Secretaries will be available to assist them.

Although students already attending what is now or will be a boundary or choice school will still have a spot at that school next fall, soon-to-be middle school students who don’t make a choice will automatically end up attending their new boundary school.

Information on which elementary schools will feed into those new boundary schools can be found at Gifford’s boundary will stay the same.

Once the choice window has ended, a computer program will randomly sift through the school choice applications. The program will run through first choices first, Tapp said, so it is important that families list their preferred school as their No. 1 choice.

If a student’s first choice school has reached capacity, the program will see if the student’s second choice school has room and so on through the student’s third choice.

Tapp said the district’s hopes to notify families about their school assignments by March.

Choice schools

The new model will mean new options for many families, but it will also mean some growing pains for existing choice programs at Walden Middle and High School, Bull Fine Arts and the REAL school.

As the only K-through-eighth choice school, Gilmore Fine Arts will essentially be an expanded version of the current programming at Bull Fine Arts elementary school, which will be closing.

Under the changes, kindergartners through fifth-graders currently attending Bull Fine Arts will automatically get a spot at Gilmore, but the district will be opening up another 25 spots per grade at each grade level. The move is expected to result in grades of about 75 students in kindergarten through fifth grade, with anywhere from 120 to 140 students in sixth grade.

The district isn’t quite sure what the changes will mean for students in seventh and eighth grades, as the district is allowing Gilmore’s current sixth- and seventh-grade students to stay at the school if they wish, Tapp said.

Walden Middle and High School, 1012 Center St., will also be leaving its building, but students currently enrolled at the school will automatically get to transfer to McKinley, 2340 Mohr Ave., where the program is moving.

As part of the larger student bodies at the choice schools, the district also will expand sibling preference to all schools, limiting it to the entry points of kindergarten and sixth grade for K-through-eighth schools, Tapp said.

Behavior, culture and identity

Although the upcoming changes were developed by district administrators, the process for rolling out those changes has been put in the hands of the larger Unified community. As the district works to implement its programming and campus changes as well as its broader goals to improve school climates, behavior and student achievement, it will be turning to the individual school communities.

As for what will happen with school names, colors, mascots or logos, the district expects those preferences to be settled on organically by each school as the new communities coalesce and form their own identities

“What we have said is, ‘get into your building, see who the staff are, see what families choose your program, and then look at those things together,’ ” Tapp said.

Mount Pleasant to add open trustee seat to spring ballot

MOUNT PLEASANT — For nearly eight months, the Village of Mount Pleasant has been operating with an open trustee seat on the Village Board. But that will come to an end after the spring 2018 election.

In a 5-1 vote, the board on Monday approved adding trustee seat No. 5 to the spring municipal election ballot. The post has been vacant since April, when Village President Dave DeGroot was re-elected as trustee and elected president. DeGroot subsequently stepped down as trustee.

The term of office will be for only one year, at which time the seat will be up for election again in the 2019 general election for a full two-year term.

Trustee Gary Feest said the majority of votes since April have often been 6-0 so “in my opinion, this board is functioning fine.” But the board has not been able to agree on appointing a trustee, deadlocking 3-3 several times.

“To end the standoff, my suggestion is that we do this: we consider having a special election since we’re going to be electing three seats in April,” Feest said. “That’s the big point there … By doing it now we flow seamlessly into the election cycle because the month of December is the gear-up time for nomination papers.”

Three trustee positions, half of the six two-year trustee terms, are on the ballot each year.

Prospective candidates for the 2018 spring municipal election can begin circulating petitions to be placed on the ballot on Friday.

Feest said whomever runs for the trustee No. 5 position won’t be running against an incumbent.

“If we continue this standoff and hope that we fill (the seat), come April it still might not be filled,” Feest said.

‘They elected me twice’

DeGroot, the sole “no” vote, touted the wisdom of the voters in selecting him for his position but also said the board needs to fill the seat.

“The villagers actually did pick (a trustee), they actually did vote in an election back in April and they elected me as trustee and they elected me as president,” DeGroot said. “They elected me twice knowing I couldn’t possibly serve both positions but electing me as trustee, they figured I was better than the other person running against me. That’s how elections work and that’s what the voters picked.”

DeGroot said about “a dozen” people have been nominated for the position but none were approved by the board.

“To take it out of the board’s hands and put it back into a special election, I don’t think the board is doing its job,” DeGroot said.

Trustee Sonny Havn reluctantly supported the special election and said the board should have taken care of the open seat itself.

“We had plenty of people, we had good people that had no baggage,” Havn said. “I think it’s pathetic that the board has not been able to come to an agreement. But in order to get this behind us … I will sadly support it.”

Those interested in the seat can pull paperwork for the seat starting Friday and the deadline to submit the paperwork is 5 p.m. on Jan. 2.




Jonathan Brines /