9/21/2019 7:30:00 AM County facilities committee discusses potential relocation of UW-Extension Fried: 'There's a lot of balls in the air'
Kayla Houp Of the Lakeland Times
As the budget hearing process begins, the future of the University of Wisconsin- Extension services in Oneida County continues to be a hot topic of discussion.
The Oneida County board's facilities committee on Monday discussed the possible relocation of the UW-Extension from the lower level of the Rhinelander-Oneida County Airport to Nicolet College.
"There's been information that's been given out at other meetings prior to our meeting here today," Oneida County buildings and grounds department facilities director Lu Ann Brunette explained.
UW-Extension's intent to relocate stems from a change in how the college utilizes its classroom space. As more classes become available online, Brunette said the college is seeing more "non-traditional" students and thus has additional space.
"And they feel that, joining of their resources along with the resources of the UW would be a good fit for everyone," Brunette said.
According to Brunette, the packet presented to the board regarding the UW-Extension proposal was "just the information packet that's very preliminary."
The packet outlines the benefits and opportunities for both Nicolet College and UW-Extension.
Brunette noted she had concerns and questions, but stressed that she believed they would all be answered "as things move forward."
The UW-Extension was also a topic of discussion at the labor relations and employee services committee meeting Sept. 4, where Brunette said the committee went "on record" giving UW-Extension a "60 days notice of non-renewal of their contracts."
"It's not a final thing," Brunette said. "It's to have them put together a package of information about what the Extension is doing for the county and it has to do with their budget."
Brunette pointed out an article published in The Northwoods River News on Sept. 14 that went into more detail.
She said the UW-Extension committee had been "charged" with providing more information that she believed would return to the labor relations committee to be discussed at a future meeting, which would potentially impact the lease agreement.
"So, when we look at the budget later today, it's going to reflect things as the status quo, of how it is right now, with the money going to the airport and we're not going to change that until we find out that there's some kind of a change," Brunette said.
"This was a very preliminary (idea) that was submitted," committee chair Billy Fried said. "There's not exact cost identified to talk about the cost being around $1,500 a month or $18,000 a year, so there's a lot more work to be done on understanding what the cost would be outside there."
Brunette said she didn't think the square footage had been determined yet for what the total area would be once the entire space was completed.
'Each piece of the puzzle'
As of right now, UW-Extension leases approximately 3,713 square feet from the airport, Brunette said, noting that it seems as though the space at Nicolet would be "significantly less" square footage.
"That was one of the questions I had, because I know that they have a lot of program materials that they have stored out there, and I don't know if they plan on taking that stuff with them, but that's all preliminary until this other information comes forward," she said.
"This poses a number of questions, which I don't think have really been answered," county board supervisor Steven Schreier said.
Schreier sat in on the committee's meeting Monday.
He asked if there was an obligation to the airport to "make good" on the terms outlined in its lease contract.
Schreier also said that there was a concern the space at Nicolet didn't "look like a significant amount of space" compared to the space at the airport.
"The savings are there, obviously. It looks pretty significant, but then again, it seems like UW-Extension is in a bit of a limbo, period," Schreier said. "As far as, there was a decision recently made about not renewing that contract with them, so it seems like there's a lot of balls up in the area in regards to this particular agency, and space requirements, to me, would seem to be the least of their concerns right now."
"Yeah, there's a lot of balls in the air and questions to be answered," Fried agreed. "You can't just pick one thing and make an evaluation. The county needs to know each piece of the puzzle."
Fried said Brunette would keep the committee updated as to whether there will be a need to adjust the budget to accommodate for more funding for a lease agreement.
"Right now, you're just giving us some informational information that was passed on to you that was presented here today," Fried said.
Kayla Houp may be reached via email at kaylah @lakelandtimes.com.
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