By BRITTANY SEEMUTH
The deadline is one year. The cost is $11 million. The century-old historic Eschweiler buildings, located on Swan Boulevard in Wauwatosa, have one last chance to remain intact.
The Eschweiler buildings were built in 1917 by renowned Milwaukee architect Alexander Eschweiler as the Milwaukee County School for Agriculture and Domestic Economy.
The future of the four gothic-style buildings now hangs in limbo.
“It’s all topsy-turvy,” said Barb Agnew, an activist and founder of The Monarch Trail, an 11-acre butterfly habitat that completely surrounds the Eschweilers and works to preserve the migration of the Monarch butterflies.
Agnew said the long-term plan of the Eschweilers rests in a duo application that Mandel Group, a local development company in charge of the Eschweiler project, sent to the Historic Preservation Commission. The Commission grants permission for alterations made to any Milwaukee historical sites. The application was approved for in a single vote with two possible scenarios: leaving the Eschweilers up, or taking down all but one Eschweiler building.
With a one-year deadline, the Forest Exploration Center, a nonprofit forestry center located in Wauwatosa, will have to raise funding to restore the Eschweilers into a charter school for its center. Agnew, however, doubts the conservation plan.
“I do not feel really assured that the Eschweilers are going to be preserved,” Agnew said. “I still think the Mandel Group is in the driver’s seat on this and could very potentially determine that they are in the way of their apartment complex.”
Tom Gaertner, treasurer and spokesperson of the Forest Exploration Center, said it has a full year from the day that Mandel Group breaks ground on its apartment complex to raise the funding. If $11 million has not been raised when the year is up, one building of the four will be saved and a wall of gardens will be constructed on the skeleton of the remaining buildings to memorialize them. The task to raise funds, however, is of concern to Gaertner.
“This is a big undertaking,” Gaertner said. “This is the last chance for these buildings to be saved.”
Sources for funding
Gaertner said the funding would come from a trifecta of sources.
“One of them [the sources] is the sale of historic tax credits,” Gaertner said. “Any time you do a restoration of a building that is on the National Register of Historic Places, the federal government and state government provide tax credits to subsidize the cost of that … also [sources come] from low interest loans and philanthropy.”
Agnew said rallying public support comes with difficulty because of the complexity of the situation.
“The sentiment of the public is still – we want these buildings saved,” Agnew said. “If it does come down to the FEC taking longer to come up with these funds, I would like Mandel to come up with a Plan C. It should not be the sole discretion of Mandel if the FEC does not come up with the money – I think it is a cop-out.”