Editor’s note: The weekly “Thumbs Up-Thumbs Down” editorial offers opinions on highs and lows in the news during the past week.
Thumbs up: Every community needs a Bernard Willi. Chippewa Falls is fortunate to have had the original for 91 years.
Willi, a Chippewa Falls native and former mayor, was honored this week by the Chippewa Falls Optimist Club for his decades of community service. Those who spoke glowingly of the man they call “Buni” said he was a member of nearly every organization in Chippewa Falls at one time or another. They spoke of his positive attitude, and of being a cheerleader for the city. He mentored young people in Chippewa Falls schools. City officials were impressed enough with his work to name the new pool Willi pushed for after Buni.
Predictably, Willi shrugged off the accolades. “I just felt if I can help, I’m going to help,” Willi told Leader-Telegram reporter Chris Vetter. It’s that kind of attitude that makes everyday folks community leaders.
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Thumbs down: So when exactly did the cost of the Confluence Arts Center — now known as the Pablo Center at the Confluence — rise by $13 million to more than $60 million?
Most in the Chippewa Valley were surprised last week to find out the project’s cost had gone up significantly since the last time Confluence officials talked about costs. The problem with this public-private development — it includes more than $20 million in state, county and city money — is that it’s way too heavy on the private side. It’s not a transparent public project. The Leader-Telegram has tried on multiple occasions to find out the costs of the project that has such interest in the Chippewa Valley and beyond. We find out information when officials feel like giving it to us.
Jason John Anderson, the project’s interim director, told the Leader-Telegram’s Julian Emerson that there were “a lot of numbers not accounted for” in the original cost estimates. The $47 million cost apparently didn’t include audio-visual equipment, lights, furniture and other equipment necessary for shows that will be at the Confluence. That’s like building a new school without science lab equipment or computers. Those items are necessary to operate.
We want the downtown center to be a success. The $5 million donation from Pablo Properties for naming rights is a remarkable gift. Operators just need to remember that the public donated $18 million to the project and has a high level of interest in what is going on at the confluence of the Eau Claire and Chippewa rivers.
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Thumbs up: Parents who want to see a nature school at the former Little Red School want to make sure they present a complete, informative proposal to the school board before pushing for the project. That’s the way is should be.
Supporters of the environmental charter school said this week they would postpone a grant application until 2019 so they can do more research and better prepare before asking the school board for authorization. If it’s a good idea, more time can’t hurt. It’s a big decision for the school board and the more information the better.