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Historic celebration

The scene was akin to the picturesque town square festivals of a bygone era.

In celebration of Independence Day, the annual Fun Fair was held in and around the Chippewa Valley Museum. Outside, the 20-piece Eau Claire Municipal Band provided the soundtrack for a crowd awash in red, white and blue. Carnival games, a cake walk, face painting, balloon animals and other offerings provided entertainment for the young, or just young at heart.

Agreeable weather and the lengthy list of activities brought hundreds to the Carson Park grounds. A new auto racing exhibit at the Chippewa Valley Museum was a big draw on Thursday, as was the fare at the facility’s old-time ice cream parlor. Admission was free to both the Chippewa Valley and Paul Bunyan Logging Camp museums.

“It’s fun to see the community come out and enjoy a day at the park,” said Carrie Ronnander, Chippewa Valley Museum director. “This is as busy — and active — as it’s been in years.”

A host of volunteers helped out the event, selling tickets, providing directions and answering questions about the region’s past.

“My favorite part is seeing people come in from all different countries,” said Ben Minerath, a volunteer for about 15 years, who describes his role at the Paul Bunyan Logging Camp Museum as that of a greeter.

Visitors from afar are asked to place a pin in a map at the museum showing where they’re from. The map gets so crowded, it has to be cleared annually.

For Fred Theiste, the July 4 gala has come full circle. Now a tour guide at the Paul Bunyan Logging Camp Museum, he fondly remembers spending the entire day at Carson Park on the Fourth of July in the past with his son.

“It’s a good chance for families to come down and learn a little bit about the history of the area,” he said. “(Logging) is a big part of the history of Eau Claire and a big part of the history of Wisconsin.”

Trump: ‘Stay true to our cause’

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump celebrated “the greatest political journey in human history” Thursday in a Fourth of July commemoration before a soggy, cheering crowd of spectators, many of them invited, on the grounds of the Lincoln Memorial. Supporters welcomed his tribute to the U.S. military while protesters assailed him for putting himself center stage on a holiday devoted to unity.

Trump called on Americans to “stay true to our cause” in a program that adhered to patriotic themes and hailed an eclectic mix of history’s heroes, from the armed forces, space, civil rights and other endeavors of American life.

He largely stuck to his script, avoiding diversions into his agenda or re-election campaign. But in one exception, he vowed, “Very soon, we will plant the American flag on Mars,” actually a distant goal not likely to be achieved until late in the 2020s if even then.

A late afternoon downpour drenched the capital’s Independence Day crowds and presaged an evening of possible on-and-off storms. But Trump’s speech unfolded in occasional rain, and the warplanes and presidential aircraft he had summoned conducted their flyovers as planned, capped by the Navy Blue Angels aerobatics team.

By adding his own, one-hour “Salute to America” production to capital festivities that typically draw hundreds of thousands anyway, Trump became the first president in nearly seven decades to address a crowd at the National Mall on Independence Day.

Protesters objecting to what they saw as his co-opting of the holiday inflated a roly-poly balloon depicting Trump as an angry, diaper-clad baby.

Trump set aside a historic piece of real estate — a stretch of the Mall from the Lincoln Monument to the midpoint of the reflecting pool — for a mix of invited military members, Republican and Trump campaign donors and other bigwigs. It’s where Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I have a dream” speech, Barack Obama and Trump held inaugural concerts and protesters swarmed into the water when supporters of Richard Nixon put on a July 4, 1970, celebration, with the president sending taped remarks from California.

Aides to the crowd-obsessed Trump fretted about the prospect of empty seats at his event, said a person familiar with the planning who was not authorized to be identified. Aides scrambled in recent days to distribute tickets and mobilize the Trump and GOP social media accounts to encourage participation for an event hastily arranged and surrounded with confusion.

Many who filed into the sprawling VIP section said they got their free tickets from members of Congress or from friends or neighbors who couldn’t use theirs. Outside that zone, a diverse mix of visitors, locals, veterans, tour groups, immigrant families and more milled about, some drawn by Trump, some by curiosity, some by the holiday’s regular activities along the Mall.

Protesters earlier made their voices heard in sweltering heat by the Washington Monument, along the traditional parade route and elsewhere, while the VIP section at the reflecting pool served as something of a buffer for Trump’s event.

In the shadow of the Washington Monument hours before Trump’s speech, the anti-war organization Codepink erected a 20-foot tall “Trump baby” balloon to protest what activists saw as his intrusion in Independence Day and a focus on military might that they associate with martial regimes.

“We think that he is making this about himself and it’s really a campaign rally,” said Medea Benjamin, the organization’s co-director. “We think that he’s a big baby. ... He’s erratic, he’s prone to tantrums, he doesn’t understand the consequences of his actions. And so this is a great symbol of how we feel about our president.”

The balloon remained tied down at the Mall because park officials restricted the group’s permission to move it or fill it with helium, Benjamin said.

Protesters also handed out small Trump-baby balloons on sticks. Molly King of La Porte, Ind., a 13-year-old Trump supporter in sunglasses and a “Make America Great Again” hat, happily came away with one.

“They’re making a big stink about it but it’s actually pretty cute,” she said. “I mean, why not love your president as you’d love a baby?”

A small crowd gathered to take pictures with the big balloon, which drew Trump supporters and detractors.

“Even though everybody has different opinions,” said Kevin Malton, a Trump supporter from Middlesboro, Kentucky, “everybody’s getting along.”

But Daniela Guray, a 19-year-old from Chicago who held a “Dump Trump” sign, said she was subjected to a racial epithet while walking along the Constitution Avenue parade route and told to go home.

She said she did not come to the Mall to protest but ended up doing so. “I started seeing all the tanks with all the protests and that’s when I said, ‘Wait, this is not an actual Fourth of July,’” she said. “Trump is making it his day rather than the Fourth of July.”

Trump had sounded a defensive note Wednesday, tweeting that the cost “will be very little compared to what it is worth.”

“We own the planes, we have the pilots, the airport is right next door (Andrews), all we need is the fuel,” he said, referring to Maryland’s Joint Base Andrews, home for some of the planes expected for the holiday flyover. “We own the tanks and all. Fireworks are donated by two of the greats.”

Trump glossed over the expense of shipping tanks and fighting vehicles to Washington by rail and guarding them for several days, and other costs.

Not since 1951, when President Harry Truman spoke before a large gathering on the Washington Monument grounds to mark the 175th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, has a commander in chief made an Independence Day speech to a sizable crowd on the Mall.

Pete Buttigieg, one of the Democrats running for president, said: “this business of diverting money and military assets to use them as a kind of prop, to prop up a presidential ego, is not reflecting well on our country.” Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Ind., is a Navy Reserve veteran who served in Afghanistan in 2014.

Two groups, the National Parks Conservation Foundation and Democracy Forward, want the Interior Department’s internal watchdog to investigate what they say may be a “potentially unlawful decision to divert” national parks money to Trump’s “spectacle.”

Trump and the event’s organizers could be on the hook to reimburse the government millions of dollars if he goes into campaign mode, in violation of federal appropriations law and the Hatch Act, which bars politicking on government time, said Walter Shaub, who left the Office of Government Ethics in 2017 after clashing with the White House over ethics and disclosure issues.

Washington has held an Independence Day celebration for decades, featuring a parade along Constitution Avenue, a concert on the Capitol lawn with music by the National Symphony Orchestra and fireworks beginning at dusk near the Washington Monument.

Trump altered the lineup by adding his speech, moving the fireworks closer to the Lincoln Memorial and summoning the tanks and warplanes.

CVTC to explore student housing options

Chippewa Valley Technical College is in the early stages of exploring student housing options, ranging from constructing a dorm structure to building twin homes.

CVTC’s three-year facilities plan, which will be reviewed by the CVTC District Board on Monday, includes an 80,000-square-foot dorm building that would cost $20 million. It would be paid for through a public/private partnership and through borrowed dollars, the document states.

“The college is working with consultants to determine project viability, explore potential locations, and develop an operating plan,” the facilities plan states.

CVTC president Bruce Barker cautioned that the proposal is preliminary.

“We start the fall of every year with our strategic plan. (The board) wants notice on anything we could be thinking of; it’s everything on our wish list,” Barker said. “It is not a prioritized list. We are looking at preliminary plans, what the costs would be, what the costs to our students would be.”

Enrollment has steadily grown in recent years, he added. Typically, technical colleges actually see an increase in numbers during slow economic times, as people go back to school to learn new skills to find a job, he explained. However, enrollment has been up throughout a strong economy.

“We’ve seen slight increases the past three years now, and enrolling more students,” he said.

And many of those students travel daily to Eau Claire because of the lack of affordable, local housing options, he said.

“We’ve had more and more requests for student housing,” Barker said. “We’ve been a commuter college.”

Two years ago, CVTC performed a feasibility study on building a dorm.

“We could easily fill a 300-bed unit,” he said. “It would be a whole new ballgame if we moved toward this.”

Technical colleges in Wausau and Green Bay have recently added student housing complexes between 100 and 300 units, he added.

Another proposal within the three-year facilities plan includes $750,000 for twin homes, which would be roughly 3,800 square feet in size. This proposal would cost $750,000.

Barker explained that the school already offers a housing construction program.

“Typically, we buy a lot, here in Eau Claire or in Chippewa Falls, and our students construct a house over the course of the year, and we sell it in the spring,” he said.

The idea in the facilities plan is to build twin homes along Polk Avenue in the Putnam Heights neighborhood, near CVTC’s parking lot. But instead of selling them, they could be kept for students, or as transitional housing for new teachers, he said.

“You could put a number of lots there,” Barker said. “There would still be the option to sell it.”

Another big proposal in the facilities plan is a proposed $25 million transportation center for the automotive maintenance program. Barker said that the lab still looks the same as it did in the 1970s, but there are more innovations in cars, particularly the growth in electric vehicles.

“Our facility is really dated, and we need to expand and improve it,” he said. “We’re seeing big changes coming in transportation.”

Unlike the university system, CVTC has bonding authority, meaning it can borrow money as needed and approved by the board, he added.

Other long-term facilities plans included in the plan are:

• Add 7,000 square feet of space to the Emergency Services Educational Center at a cost of $1.75 million, and remodel another 24,000 square feet of the center at a cost of $1.5 million.

• Remodel 1,300 square feet in the radiography lab in the Health Education Center, at a cost of $228,750.

• Remodel 2,700 square feet in the Manufacturing Education Center, at a cost of $300,000.

• Remodel 4,700 square feet in the Chippewa Falls location, at a cost of $300,000.

• Improve the 1,000-square-foot entrance corridor to the Menomonie location, at a cost of $350,000. The offices and commons area in Menomonie totaling 1,400 square feet would be remodeled at a cost of $200,000.

• Create a motorcycle training course on the west campus in Eau Claire at a cost of $300,000.

• The 12,000-square-foot Applied Technology Center would be remodeled at a cost of $1 million.

• A 20,000-square-foot equipment storage facility would be built at a cost of $1.8 million. It would be used to store everything from automotive equipment to motorcycles and snowmobiles.

• A welding lab would receive a 12,000-square-foot expansion at a cost of $3 million.

• Remodel 26,350 square feet in the Business Education Center at a cost of $2.5 million.

• The residential construction class would receive a 7,700-square-foot lab, at a cost of $1.5 million.

The CVTC District Board meets at 5:30 p.m. Monday in the Business Education Center, room 100A, 620 W. Clairemont Ave.