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Up and running: Security screenings have started on county courts floor

Entering the second floor of the Eau Claire County Courthouse Wednesday, local attorney Robert Thorson placed his briefcase into a large bin.

As an employee of Per Mar Security Services slid the bin through an X-ray machine, Thorson grabbed his cup of coffee and walked through a metal detector.

On the other side, Thorson retrieved his property and headed down the hall toward some of the floor’s courtrooms.

“It’s nothing new,” said Thorson, who has been practicing law for almost 37 years. “Some of the surrounding courthouses have similar setups.”

“The screening procedures are not new to courthouses, but they are new to ours,” said Dan Bresina, captain of the Eau Claire County sheriff’s office’s security services division, which oversees courthouse and jail security. “That’s why we have … an introductory period.”

Beginning July 1, security screening will take place for all non-county employees and visitors — of all ages — to the Eau Claire County Courthouse’s second floor, or courts floor, and their purses, backpacks or bags between 7:45 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

The county launched a “soft opening” of the screening Monday to allow for a trial period to test equipment, run through the screening process and educate the public and employees.

“We do encourage you to take a little extra time ‘cause it might take a few more minutes to get you through … ,” said Bresina, noting the longest wait times he had witnessed so far in observing the screenings were 45 seconds to one minute.

As of noon Wednesday, about 12 people had been turned away from the courts floor, mostly with pocket knives, pepper spray and box cutters, Bresina said.

“So we ask that you check your pockets,” Bresina said. “Those things will not be allowed here on the second floor … and are not allowed in the courthouse.”

Visitors with unauthorized items have been allowed to return the property to their vehicles, said Bresina, who asked that people not leave prohibited items unsecured in the courthouse or on its property.

Other unauthorized items include ammunition, axes or hatchets, batons, bows, brass knuckles, electric weapons, explosives, guns of any kind — including BB, pellet and toy, hammers, knives, mace, martial arts weapons or sharp objects, Bresina said.

Over the years, bailiffs have confiscated some of those items from people on the second floor, he said.

About two years ago, a county committee was asked to look at courthouse security, and the group made several recommendations, Bresina said.

“The County Board ultimately made a decision to be preemptive versus reactive … to security issues,” said Bresina, noting it will be up to the body to decide if additional security measures are added on the courthouse’s other floors.

The county has spent $39,500 for the security screening equipment, said Bresina, estimating operating and staffing it to cost $185,000 to $190,000 annually.

“(In my opinion), it’s important to screen people for the protection for those who are visiting the courthouse and (the county’s) employees,” he said.

Memorial High principal to depart for private sector position

After 21 years as a teacher, coach and administrator at his alma mater, Memorial High School principal Trevor Kohlhepp is graduating to the private sector.

Kohlhepp, who has been principal for the past 3½ years, announced his resignation recently in a letter to Memorial parents.

He has accepted a position at the business technologies company EO Johnson in Eau Claire.

“I have loved what I’ve done at Memorial and the school district has been very good to me, but for me there’s always been an intrigue and a desire to try to do something different,” Kohlhepp said Wednesday. “An opportunity has presented itself, and now seemed like a good time to look at it.”

Eau Claire schools Superintendent Mary Ann Hardebeck said she is sorry to see Kohlhepp leave but wishes him the best.

“I’m certainly sorry to see him go, but I understand he’s got a great opportunity and he’s looking in that direction,” Hardebeck said. “We just want him to be happy.”

The district already has begun a search for a new principal at Memorial in hopes of hiring Kohlhepp’s successor before the start of the 2019-20 school year. It’s an awkward time of year to search for a principal, as many qualified individuals are likely under contract, so it’s possible the district will end up naming an interim principal next year, Hardebeck acknowledged.

“Memorial is a great school with a great staff, so I’m hopeful we’ll get some great applicants,” she said.

The Memorial opening is one of three principal positions the district is advertising to fill this summer. The others are at South Middle School and Sam Davey Elementary School.

South principal Dianna Zeegers, who completed the 2018-19 school year, announced her resignation in the spring and is taking a job in Colorado, Hardebeck said.

Former Sam Davey principal Bill Giese has accepted a position working on special projects in the district’s central office before retiring at the end of next school year, Hardebeck said.

Kohlhepp’s ties to Memorial run deep, as he graduated from the school in 1991 and worked in the building as a physical education teacher, varsity basketball and golf coach, athletic director, assistant principal and principal. He coached the Old Abes boys basketball team to the state tournament in 2003.

“Trevor knew the school and had a long history there,” Hardebeck said. “People know Trevor and felt comfortable with him, and he felt comfortable with them. That goes a long way.”

She called Kohlhepp a “very good high school principal” and noted that Memorial improved its state Department of Public Instruction report card standings under his leadership.

For his part, Kohlhepp said he enjoyed the challenge of trying to ensure Memorial remained a great school and an outstanding place for students to learn and grow.

“I got to work with a lot of great staff and families,” he said. “That was definitely a highlight.”

He also has had two sons graduate from Memorial, with another set to attend in the fall.

In one of his last official acts as principal, Kohlhepp got to hand out diplomas to the class of 2019, which included his son Kaden. He previously enjoyed the same opportunity with older son Tanner, both of whom, like their father, were heavily involved with Old Abes athletics.

“It’s always cool to shake kids’ hands and give them their diplomas,” Kohlhepp said, “but to be able to do it to your own kids and give them a hug, that was pretty neat.”

Pablo cancels plan for new office buildings along North Barstow

Eau Claire-based Pablo Properties has withdrawn its proposal to create office buildings and a new children’s museum on two downtown city lots.

The group that has become known locally for revitalization projects, business ventures and philanthropy recently informed the city’s economic development division that its plans for land along North Barstow Street won’t be moving forward.

Unveiled in autumn, Pablo Properties’ plans included an upscale four-story office building with glass walls, a new Eau Claire Children’s Museum and an additional office building with lower rents to foster new start-up companies. The project had an estimated $32 million value.

Aaron White, the city’s economic development manager, delivered Pablo Properties’ letter to Eau Claire’s Redevelopment Authority during that group’s Wednesday morning board meeting.

Changes with clients who were lined up for office space and rising construction costs impacted the financial viability of the project, even after some changes were considered, according to White.

“They made a great effort to try and revamp the project,” he said of Pablo.

White said Pablo Properties considered adding residential units, looking at the retail sector or other mixes of uses for the sites, but ultimately decided they had to step away from the project.

“The main issue was forecasted financial feasibility,” Julia Johnson, a partner in Pablo Properties, said in an email to the Leader-Telegram.

Even assuming 90% occupancy at market rate for premium office space in Eau Claire, she said rental income didn’t cover costs due to current construction prices, the project’s expected value and common areas that wouldn’t generate revenue.

“In efforts to make the project feasible we removed exciting features like a rooftop greenhouse, we stopped figuring lower rents for grocery store and we standardized building construction in many aspects. We looked at adding residential to the project as well,” Johnson said. “Other variations changed the project so substantially that our reasons for doing the project dissolved.”

Pablo Properties’ owners, staff and hired consultants spent countless hours and considerable dollars on the plans, she said.

“We diligently explored our options to make the project work and did not come to this decision lightly.” Johnson said of withdrawing the plans.

The buildings were slated for two lots owned by Eau Claire’s Redevelopment Authority. One lot is along the east side of the city’s North Barstow area parking ramp while the other parcel is a neighboring temporary surface parking lot known as Block 7.

In the next couple of weeks, the RDA will put out a call for new development proposals for the land, hoping to see the same fervor that prompted multiple parties to compete last year.

“With the interest that was shown on the sites we want to get the word out again that they’re open for proposals,” White said.

Pablo Properties won exclusive rights on Nov. 21 to negotiate a development agreement for the RDA land, beating out proposals from three other companies that also sought to develop the prime downtown real estate.

Even after that, White said the city has still gotten calls from developers inquiring about the land.

While Pablo is out, that doesn’t rule out a new children’s museum on Block 7, which had been part of multiple development proposals sent last fall to the city.

“We remain committed to opening a new Children’s Museum, along with a new home for the Family Resource Center and preschool with Eau Claire Area School District, on Block 7 in 2021,” Michael McHorney, executive director of the Children’s Museum of Eau Claire, wrote in a statement to the Leader-Telegram.

Following Pablo’s withdrawal, McHorney said he contacted other developers with a known interest in Block 7 to express the museum’s continued desire to relocate there from its current location, 220 S. Barstow St.

McHorney also thanked Pablo Properties for the effort the group had put into its vision for Block 7.

“This speaks volumes to the kind of transformation and impact they are looking to make in downtown Eau Claire,” he wrote.

Pablo Properties is currently working on other redevelopment projects, including conversion of the former Syverson Lutheran Home into apartments and major renovation of an old rowhouse building on Oxford Avenue into condominiums.

Pablo Properties is led by Jamf co-founder Zach Halmstad and two others who were in on the ground floor at the locally created software company — Julia Johnson and Jason Wudi. The group is responsible for Jamf’s office building in the North Barstow area, thoroughly revamping an aging downtown hotel into The Lismore Hotel, creating downtown co-working space CoLab, operating multiple restaurants and coffee shops, and making a large donation to the Pablo Center at the Confluence.