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While a new report calls the condition of the Police Administration Building (at right) "fair," it recommends replacing the Safety Building (at left).

Report says County should replace three key buildings as soon as possible

A new Public Policy Forum report on the state of Milwaukee's City- and County-owned buildings calls for the replacement – "as soon as possible" – of three Milwaukee County properties: the Safety Building and Medical Examiner's Office on the western end of Downtown, and the Mental Health Complex on the County Grounds.

The full report, "Cracks in the Foundation: An Analysis of Building Repair and Replacement Needs at the City and County of Milwaukee," can be read here.

A consultant last year recommended that the County tear down and replace the Safety Building, built in 1929, with a new 360,000-square foot building. That report can be read here.

Describing the City of Milwaukee's buildings as being "in acceptable conditional overall," thanks to a number of renovation projects that are in progress, the Public Policy Forum report says City Hall is in "poor" condition, while the Police Administration Building is rated as "fair."

The report acknowledges that both those buildings are currently undergoing renovations.

"These buildings are important not only for the public services they house," the report notes, "but also because their proper care and improvement impacts the ability of each government to spend capital dollars on quality-of-life assets like museums and parks, and on the transportation, water and wastewater assets that are critical to our region's economy and public health."

The report is part of a five-part series on the state of the metropolitan area's infrastructure. Previous reports focused on roads, bridges and buses owned by the City and County (September 2016); and on water, sewer and wastewater treatment infrastructure owned by the City and the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District (May 2017).

Today's report says buildings owned by both the City and the County are in need of "substantial and expensive" repairs and/or replacement, noting that while the City's building stock is "manageable going forward," the County faces what the report calls, "a far more dire set of circumstances that currently appear unmanageable."

The report says that the County will need more than $200 million to build a new courthouse to replace the Safety Building. Such a project could, in the words of the report, "exhaust virtually all of the County's borrowing capacity for several consecutive years. While County officials hope to identify alternative means of financing the project, it is difficult to see how that can happen in a manner that will not require the County either to borrow more than it can reasonably afford, or to exacerbate its decades-long practice of deferring other capital improvement needs."

Here are what Public Policy Forum describes as the key findings of the report:

  • "Three of the County's most mission-critical buildings – the Safety Building, Mental Health Complex, and Medical Examiner's Office – should be fully replaced as soon as possible. The three buildings are similar in that the need for full replacement has been known for some time, and that planning for new buildings is proceeding, but decisions have been delayed because of financial constraints and uncertainty as to whether and how replacement should occur. In the meantime, necessary repair work on the existing buildings has been deferred pending decisions on replacement, thus creating an even more urgent need to act."
  • "City buildings are in acceptable condition overall, though only because major renovation projects are underway. City Hall and the Police Administration Building are in 'poor' and 'fair' condition respectively, but that picture will improve once the existing projects are completed. On the whole, other major City buildings appear to be in reasonable condition, with the exception of the Municipal Services Building in the Menomonee Valley and two Department of Public Works garages."
  • "Milwaukee County lacks the capacity to finance the capital needs of its buildings if it wishes to stay within its self-imposed bonding and cash financing limits. Even if the need to replace the Safety Building did not exist, the report finds that the County should more than double its spending on building-related projects in 2018 based on existing requests (from $12 million to $24 million) and almost quadruple it to $45 million in 2019. Doing so likely would cause it to substantially exceed its bonding limits, and/or to focus mainly on financing building needs while deferring capital needs in other areas."
  • "The City of Milwaukee's capital finance environment is growing more difficult as major building projects are completed. The City already has struggled to secure the capital resources needed to complete the City Hall and PAB projects. A concern is whether the City can appropriately keep on top of its other building needs – and its capital needs in general – while those projects are running their course. For now, the prospects look reasonable, but the emergence of expensive new projects in the next five years and continued deferral of basic repair needs could modify that assessment."

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