By Al Stanek
Whitewater Banner volunteer staff
Whitewater Common Council members got updates on several major quality-of-life initiatives at their August 17 meeting including the proposed expansion of the Irvin L. Young Memorial Library as well as the drawdown and weed-control project for Trippe and Cravath Lakes. They also continued to wrestle with pandemic response options as reports of COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and COVID-related deaths continued to rise.
City Parks and Recreation Director Eric Boettcher reported that Cravath Lake’s water level has been completely drawn down to the desired level and Trippe Lake’s drawdown has been completed to the minimum level needed. The deepest portion of Trippe Lake near the dam continues to be the only remaining lake-like feature of the two bodies. Dredging of 87,000 cubic yards of sediment from the two lakes is on schedule to begin later this year with refilling of the lakes to begin next year.
The lakes drawdown project was launched in July of 2019. Long-time Whitewater residents recall the two downtown area bodies of water being more lake than weeds in the past. A swimming beach near the dam on Trippe Lake was active at one time and city leaders reportedly view the total $1.4 million project as an initiative to make the city more attractive to new families, residents and businesses as well as to provide improved recreational options for existing residents.
The greater Whitewater area population (including Whitewater Lake and surrounding areas) has been stagnant over the past 30 years according to the ‘World Population Review’ (WPR). The WPR reports an actual annualized loss in population of one third of 1% although the most recently released US Census figures show a modest City of Whitewater population increase from 2020.
Representatives of the Whitewater Library Board also referenced the desire to attract more families to Whitewater as they presented a revised Library expansion plan that appeared to be warmly reviewed by Common Council members. The proposal was a significant reduction in scope from earlier proposals.
The Library Board’s lead project consultant, Rick McCarthy, presented an analysis of the ratio of square feet of library space to population that indicated Whitewater’s Library size is at roughly 25% below the average for similar sized communities. When pressed by Common Council member Jim Allen, McCarthy indicated that the UW-Whitewater student population was indeed subtracted from the city’s total to better represent the number of full-time residents, which as he recalled was estimated at between 6000-8000.
The proposed addition will have a greater focus on early learning and school age children along with the provision of small group meeting rooms that can be converted to a larger meeting room if needed. The proposal is to expand the Church Street facing portion of the existing library with a much larger welcoming area along with added designated youth and makerspace rooms along with the proposed meeting spaces.
Former Common Council member Jim Winship, who leads the library expansion project and a related fund-raising drive, indicated that the total project cost would be an estimated $5 million with $3 million of that hopefully being a commitment from the city. Winship indicated that the Library Board currently owns three adjacent properties that had been acquired for an expansion to the east that could be sold reducing the fund-raising goal to less than $1.5 million. It was pointed out that the existing library was built roughly 30 years ago at a cost nearly identical to the proposed $5 million for the estimated 7,000 square foot addition to the existing 14,146 square foot facility.
Fundraising is expected to take six months followed by an estimated 12 to 18 months for design and construction. Information on the project is available beginning on page six of the following Library Board agenda: https://whitewater-wi.gov/AgendaCenter/ViewFile/Agenda/_07192021-1352?packet=true
Council members took no new action on the issue of required masks or online only city meetings. They referenced the recent action taken by Walworth County that asks that all employees and members of the general public to wear face masks in County facilities regardless of vaccination status. The Whitewater Unified School District (WWUSD) Board recently extended its policy of making masks optional but cautioned that COVID-related case increases may require an alternative approach. City Council members appeared to be in agreement that a “wait-and-see” approach is the best option.