By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Nov 18, 2014 at 9:02 AM

One of the most recent building "booms" at Milwaukee Public Schools added a handful of new schools to the city’s landscape, but at least one planned project – and perhaps more – never saw the light of day.

In 1991, MPS built a new home for Elm Creative Arts on Walnut Street (on the site of the former 9th Street School). The old Elm building on 27th and Garfield became home to Starms Early Childhood Center and a related program, Starms Discovery Center, got a new building that year, too.

Three middle schools – Sarah Scott, Grand Avenue and Milwaukee Education Center – also went up in 1991-92.

A decade or so later, three schools were built – Bethune, Browning and Rogers – as part of the district’s Neighborhood Schools Initiative, which also brought additions to a number of buildings, including Clarke Street, Hi-Mount, Doerfler, LaFollette, 35th Street and Thurston Woods, among others.

But what about Walker’s Point Middle School, which was theorized for a site slightly larger than two full blocks between Virginia and Bruce Streets, from 6th Street westward to where Virginia meets 9th?

The MPS facilities archives has site plans, building floor plans and exterior drawings for a school on the site. But that school was never built.

A district building and sites plan from 1986 recognized the growing need for middle schools and suggested building two of them – on at 107th and Mill Road and another on a site to be determined – that could each accommodate nearly 1,000 students.

By the summer of 1990, Milwaukee’s population of middle-school-aged kids was surging and the district needed to address it. 

One newspaper report noted that MPS was considering transforming the old Downtown Medical and Health Services building at 24th and Wisconsin and the former Schlitz Malt House on King Drive and Pleasant Street into middle schools at a cost of $34.5 million.

Those two buildings could accommodate between 1,670 and 1,850 pupils, the district estimated. But it wouldn’t suffice.

"In the next five years, as many as 2,000 more sixth through eighth grade students are expected," the Journal reported.

By this time, MPS was already in the process of building Sarah Scott Middle School as a replacement for the 8th Street Middle School program. The new building would accommodate 750 students, just 300 more than the old site.

Something had to be done.

Enter Walker’s Point Middle School, plans for which were drawn in April 1992 by Eppstein Keller Uhen (now just Eppstein Uhen) Architects, which has worked on other projects with MPS.

Though I couldn’t find anyone in MPS facilities who has been around long enough to remember the project, Eppstein Uhen’s John Miceli, the firm’s vice president and project management practice leader, was able to conjure a bit.

"We’re stretching my memory a bit, to be honest," he admitted when I talked to him. But, he recalled, the district had considered more than a dozen potential sites for new middle schools back then.

"At the time MPS was looking at expanding their middle school options and we looked at 15 to 20 locations. We ended up doing a few of them. That’s when we did Grand Avenue Middle School and Milwaukee Education Center at Schlitz Park. Both of those were part of that."

Walker’s Point Middle School would’ve opened in a renovated Trade Center building, which still stands at 647 W. Virginia St., and which looks a bit like a school already, though it never served as one. Instead, it was built by the Pfister & Vogel Leather Co.

According to the site plan, a long, low, two-story addition would be built to the south. Parking would occupy the eastern portion of the site, while green space would run west from the building along Virginia and, westward from the addition would be a track and field and on the far western end, a hard surface play area.

According to the drawing, "this scheme proposes to acquire the entire block except for Orlandini property."

These days, beyond the former tannery building, now called the Trade Center, and the Orlandini studios property next door, the entire site is only occupied by six other buildings: five homes along Bruce and the restaurant on the corner that over the years has housed places like Virginia’s and Il Mito.

The imagined -- and drawn -- space would have plenty of classroom space, a large cafeteria and kitchen, a big gym, a library, computer center, foreign language lab, art and band/orchestra rooms, labs for science, communication (including a dark room), materials and processing, family and consumer education, power and transmission, and flexible classroom space with moveable partitions.

In short, a fully-equipped, modern middle school.

"We had done some of the initial designs on Sarah Scott and so we had that as a model concept," Miceli said.

So, what happened?

"So we looked at about 20 locations and some were pretty quickly discarded. Some others seemed like possibilities and we did a little bit more conceptual designs like that. I think that’s as far as that one got," Miceli recalled.

"There were a couple different factors we were taking into consideration. First was, ‘is the site big enough?’ Then there was the cost of acquisition of the land and the construction that had to be done. In that case there was the work that needed to be done on the existing building."

What might have been the main reason that the Walker’s Point Middle School was never built was that old real estate maxim about location, location, location.

Miceli said, "Was it in a good location for surrounding populations?" was one of the key questions asked about all the sites considered.

"Because that one was so close to the Menomonee Valley it was drawing only from the south, not from the north. I think that was the problem."

As population demographics continued to change, so did the needs for middle schools in Milwaukee. Add to that a new desire for K-8 schools – which were a major part of the district’s 2000 Neighborhood Schools Initiative – and the new middle schools were doomed.

Sarah Scott, MEC and Grand Avenue all closed in 2009, though none of the buildings is vacant. MPS has since opened Milwaukee Academy of Chinese Language at Grand Avenue, moved and expanded Wisconsin Conservatory of Lifelong Learning at Sarah Scott – which, for a few years, had become the district’s training and meeting facility – and Golda Meir’ middle school grades and new high school occupy part of the MEC building.

The two elementary schools opened in 1991 – Elm and Starms – continue to operate in their new buildings, as does the program that replaced Elm at its original site.

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.

He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.