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Waukesha Businessman Crosses First Hurdle on Quest to Build School on Milwaukee's South Side

Proposal now goes before Common Council's Zoning, Neighborhoods & Development Committee

Gus Ramirez wants to build a four-story school on 5th and Harrison, in Milwaukee's Walker's Point/Bay View neighborhoods. The school he envisions would educate children living in the area and would be either a charter or voucher school, in essence, an alternative to MPS.

On Monday, the City Plan Commission voted unanimously in favor of rezoning the land, so that it could accommodate a school. The recommendation now goes before a Common Council committee.

Ramirez, owner of HUSCO International - a Waukesha-based company that develops hydraulic and electrohydraulic controls, told the commissioners that families on the south side need better options.

“I came here as five-year-old not speaking a word of English, from Puerto Rico. Education allowed me to go to the very best schools, including Georgia Tech and Harvard University, so I understand the power of education,” Ramirez said.

The land Ramirez wants is about 10 acres of largely undeveloped property where several city leader had planned to create a public soccer complex, but the plan stalled when the recession took root. The businessman’s proposal would build indoor and outdoor fields for public use but add a K-12 school. He envisions it eventually enrolling 2,000 students.

Monday’s hearing was on the question of whether the city should rezone the land, and several school operators testified, including Henry Tyson. He's superintendent of St. Marcus, a voucher school on the city’s north side.

“My personal experience has been the absolutely dramatic impact that a high quality school can have on the community, and what I mean by that is neighborhood stabilization,” Tyson said.

While the Walker’s Point and Bay View neighborhoods have not been hurting for development, Ricardo Diaz says some families won’t be interested in setting roots there. Diaz works for the United Community Center.

“We know the great work that many of you have done relative to what’s happening in Bay View. It really is a renaissance. But most of us have to remember that young families make a different decision when they have a family, and that is a good school. So I urge you to support this for many reasons, but mostly to keep people in the City of Milwaukee,” Diaz said.

A few people who spoke against rezoning the land for a potential school, including Kenneth Greening and Phyllis Keener, expressed ideological opposition to privately built or run schools getting public money. Generally in Milwaukee, public funding for education follows the student. They include Kenneth Greening and Phyllis Keener.

“Don’t rezone for private schools from public schools. You’re misusing the public funds in eventuality, and I’m sorry that this is proposed,” Greening said.

“Generally I’m just against anything that will take money and resources away from public education,” Keener said.

The only opposition, directly on point, came from Brandon Cain of Bird Ladder and Equipment Company, which would border the proposed schools. Cain told the commission that hundreds of semis regularly pull onto his property.

“If there was kids running around constantly, I think that would be a problem for us, as far as their safety and not being able to take deliveries at 7:30 and 3:30 in the day that is my main concern,” Cain told the commission.

Cain says he was not invited to any discussions about a possible school in the neighborhood. Supporters of the plan assured him afterwards, that they would address his concerns.