Zielinski leads opposition of proposed south side school

After convening community residents in two public meetings on Wednesday to discuss a proposed $40 million K4-12 school on Milwaukee’s south side, Alderman Tony Zielinski said he will stand against the development of the school.

Instead, Zielinski hopes to see the property of the proposed school site, along South 6th Street and West Harrison Avenue, transformed into a soccer facility for public use.

To bring a major soccer facility into the neighborhood is a “major dream” of area residents, Zielinski said, and one that he previously tried to fill but was unable to without sufficient funding.

The school in proposal, known as Augustine Prep School, is among the latest philanthropic endeavors of Gus Ramirez, executive chairman of Waukesha-based HUSCO International and owner of the property along South 6th Street and West Harrison Avenue.

During Wednesday’s public meetings, held at Old Town Serbian Gourmet House, Ramirez stressed that he aims to create a Christian-based school that would usher elementary school students directly into a quality high school.

“We’re providing this as a gift to the south side,” he said.

According to Ramirez’s proposal, Augustine Prep School would be housed in a three- or four-story building and would also include a sizable athletic facility and fields available for the public to use.

The school would be constructed in two phases, the first of which would be anchored by the development of a 185,000-square-foot structure that could hold 1,000 children. The first phase of construction would also include development of a 24,000-square-foot gymnasium and outdoor athletic facilities and fields.

The second phase of construction would add up to 100,000 square feet onto the site so that the school could double its enrollment to 2,000 students by the 2022-23 school year.

Prior to construction, the site – a former industrial site – would require significant demolition and environmental cleanup. The cost of cleanup efforts would likely be between $1 million and $2 million.

Cleanup would kick off later this summer or fall with substantial construction of the school beginning in spring 2016. The first phase would have an anticipated opening of spring 2017.

Milwaukee-based Korb + Associates Architects is serving as the project architect.

According to Ramirez, Augustine Prep School would likely be part of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program and would take a “blended” approach to learning in which technology would complement teachers’ classroom instructions.

Ramirez said his development team has been studying schools around the country to analyze best practices of current education models.

“This blended approach to education is something that we’re going to focus on, learn about and then try to deliver in an exceptional way,” he said.

Ramirez’s project drew criticism from some residents who, during Wednesday’s meetings, expressed concern that his school could add to the budget struggles Milwaukee Public Schools face as it competes for MPS students.

Ramirez said that he has spent almost 30 years trying to figure out how to better the public school system.

“It’s beyond my capability,” he said, adding that he does not have another 30 years to find a solution and instead wants to focus on identifying great schools and helping them grow.

When asked how he will make a profit on his school project, Ramirez said he will not.

“That’s not our purpose,” he said, explaining that Milwaukee has been very good to him and his family and he now wants to give back to the city.

Zielinski acknowledged Ramirez’s generosity and sincerity in wanting to improve Milwaukee’s educational landscape but insisted that the best use of the property is a soccer facility and fields, particularly with the south side’s high concentration of soccer players and fans.

His first objective will be to defeat the current proposal, he said.

The City Plan Commission will review Ramirez’s proposal and rezoning request on Monday.

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