BROWN DEER - The Brown Deer School District is considering expanding its campus onto the neighboring Brown Deer Library property, which has prompted village officials to float the idea of relocating the library into the ground floor of a hypothetical mixed-use development topped with market-rate apartments.
The school district has hired consultants to conduct an enrollment study and a facilities study to better understand the growth occurring in the school district.
Brown Deer School District Superintendent Deb Kerr said the district's growth has surpassed the 10-percent enrollment growth projection that was built into the planning for the 2011 referendum. Brown Deer Elementary School is at capacity, even with the transformation of a locker room into a classroom. Resident enrollment increased by 56 students in the 2015-16 school year and 48 students in the 2014-15 school year, according to budget presentations from the last two years.
In addition to the enrollment and facilities studies, the school district is also going to conduct community surveys and focus group meetings with community organizations. A large community meeting is planned for May 13.
In addition to enrollment trends, Kerr said she hopes the studies, surveys and conversations address several big-picture questions: What is the community's vision of a Brown Deer graduate? What kind of course offerings should the district provide? How can Brown Deer adapt to modern learning environments?
One idea that has emerged out of the school district's preliminary brainstorming sessions has been the acquisition of the neighboring Brown Deer Library, which Kerr said could be used for early childhood programs, for example.
Possible library relocation
When the school district floated this idea by village officials, Village Manager Michael Hall and Community Development Director Nate Piotrowski thought it may present an opportunity to relocate the library to the Original Village neighborhood, which was mentioned in 2009 as part of the village's comprehensive plan.
"Locating the library in the Original Village would bolster existing local businesses and possibly create more demand for service in a mixed-use development," Hall said, quoting the comprehensive plan.
Hall said the library is having budgetary problems, and the relocation of the library to the Original Village neighborhood would not only provide more foot traffic but also a chance to transition to a more contemporary concept that is less focused on books and more focused on technology and meeting spaces. The community's need for meeting space is evident by the booked schedule at Lois and Tom Dolan Community Center, Hall said. Under state statute, Brown Deer is required to pay for library services, either within the village or a neighboring community.
The library could possibly be relocated to the Original Village neighborhood through a redevelopment opportunity at a vacant church building previously used by City of God and Shoreland Community Church. That property, which has frontage along Green Bay Road and Deerwood Drive, has seen some interest from developers interested in a mixed-use development, and Piotrowski said the village might be able to include the library in those plans.
"We are at a unique moment in time where we have a project that we believe is coming forward in a month or two on the old church property ... and we have a school district that is going out in the next couple months to have community conversations about their challenges within their built environment, how they are having a lack of space and how there is a keen interest in acquiring the library," Piotrowski said. "If ever there was a time to look to the future and build a library of the future, while not burdening ourselves by redoing the library in its current location, that opportunity is now. We don't know that there will ever be another opportunity like this."
If the school district decides not to acquire the library, then village officials feared the library — once it surpasses its useful life — would be difficult to sell, similar to the Finney Library on North and Sherman avenues.
The village board's discussion on Feb. 6 about the library relocation was part of a more wide-ranging discussion in which Hall and Piotrowski gauged the board's interest in pursuing mixed-use development, which generally refers to a multi-story apartment building anchored on the ground level by retail, offices, cultural, industrial or institutional uses.
Piotrowski said developers are increasingly interested in mixed-use development, as opposed to single-family homes or condominium developments.
Piotrowski and Hall have identified about 150 mixed-used projects spanning Milwaukee and Waukesha counties over the next six years. They said the arrival of modern, mixed-use developments in Brown Deer would make the village more attractive to those seeking new construction and amenities. Brown Deer's most recent apartment project is the Northpoint apartments, which were built in 1991.
The village's comprehensive plan from 2009 identified three potential locations for mixed-use developments: the Original Village, the Marketplace at Brown Deer shopping center and the former Hearthside Rehabilitation site at the northwest corner of Green Bay Road and Schroeder Drive.
About half of the former Hearthside site is occupied by Goodwill, and just north of the Goodwill, plans have been submitted for a Dollar Tree store. The Brown Deer Plan Commission considered those plans on Feb. 13. The Dollar Tree would occupy 1.75 acres of the 2.5-acre lot north of Goodwill, and a 1-acre lot remains available east of Goodwill along Green Bay Road.
As far as the Marketplace at Brown Deer, property owners Developers Diversified Realty have shown an interest in combining residential with commercial, similar to the apartments above Bayshore Town Center.
Village board members, with the exception of Trustee Terry Boschert, seemed receptive to the idea of reviewing specific mixed-use apartment proposals as they come forward. Trustee Jeff Baker said he thinks a smaller-scale apartment building would work well, as long as the "market-rate apartments" didn't charge $1,500-per-month for a one-bedroom, as has been seen closer to downtown Milwaukee.
Apartments have been a contentious issue in recent years, as has been seen in public hearings for the Lighthouse of Brown Deer senior apartments project and the Jewish Family Services apartment project on Bradley Road. Boschert said several times that he opposed the idea of new apartments in Brown Deer. He said he would like to see vacant properties filled with single-family homes, manufacturers or offices. Hall said any offices would be best directed to the Brown Deer Office Park, which is largely unfilled.
No formal plans have been submitted to the village. If plans are submitted, they would be the subject of multiple public hearings in front of the plan commission and village board.