MADISON, Wis. — Gov. Tony Evers on Monday proposed spending $2.4 billion on Wisconsin building projects over the next two years, with nearly a half of that going toward projects across the University of Wisconsin System.
Projects include $163 million for a new state office building in Milwaukee, relocation of the state historical society museum to a new location near the Capitol and a new juvenile prison in Milwaukee County.
The state building commission is slated to vote on Evers' proposals next month, which would then send the plan to the Legislature's budget committee. The Republican-controlled Legislature will ultimately decide what to fund in the budget it passes and sends to Evers later this year.
Of the nearly $2.4 billion proposed for projects across 31 counties, $1 billion will be for the UW System. That mirrors his capital budget proposal from two years ago, when roughly $1 billion of the $2.5 billion was for projects on UW campuses. The Legislature ultimately approved $1.9 billion in building projects.
Republican co-chairs of the Legislature's budget committee were slow to embrace Evers' plans, without going into specifics. Sen. Howard Marklein called it a “wish list” with some necessary projects and others that he said “require careful consideration.” Rep. Mark Born said investments will be made in building projects but “it won’t be at the levels the governor has proposed."
The vast majority of the projects would be paid for through long-term borrowing, an attractive option given current low interest rates.
— $163 million state office building and parking garage in Milwaukee, replacing the existing office building there at a new location and consolidating offices.
— $150 million to demolish an engineering facility at UW-Madison and build the first phase of a two-part replacement facility to house the College of Engineering.
— $116 million for UW-River Falls to demolish a vacated academic building and replace it with a new science and technology facility to be home for the biology, chemistry, physics, and psychology departments.
— $96 million for UW-Green Bay to demolish the Cofrin Library and build a replacement multi-use academic, technology center.
— $46 million juvenile prison in Milwaukee County to house 32 young offenders as part of a plan to close the Lincoln Hills-Copper Lake juvenile prisons north of Wausau.
— $40 million to help pay for plans to relocate the Milwaukee Public Museum and combine it with the Betty Brinn Children’s Museum near the Fiserv Forum in downtown Milwaukee. The total project, which includes both public and private funds, is expected to be complete in 2026 and cost $240 million. The Milwaukee Public Museum, a natural history museum, has operated at its current location in downtown Milwaukee since 1963.
“A new facility provides a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the community to re-envision the Museum and its exhibits,” the governor's budget proposal said.
— $36 million for upgrades at a variety of state parks, including replacing the visitors station public entrance at Potawatomi State Park and restoring the historic boat house at Rock Island State Park.
— $4 million to begin preliminary design work for redevelopment of a block near the Capitol in Madison for a new state office building and home for the Wisconsin Historical Society Museum.
The project would involve tearing down the existing 50-year-old state office building on the site. The office currently only houses the Department of Workforce Development after the Department of Children and Families recently moved to a more modern state office building in Madison.
In his budget, Evers said the four-story building known as GEF1 has outlived its life expectancy with critical mechanical systems including plumbing and electrical starting to fail and in need of replacement. The current building also does not have a fire sprinkler system.
The proposed redevelopment project would provide a new home for the historical society museum, a popular stop for school field trips that is currently located where State Street dead ends into the Capitol. The Legislature previously approved $100 million for a new museum at the current location, but Evers is calling for relocating it along with the newly proposed office building a few blocks away.
Evers' proposal would pay for beginning planning for such a project, but funding to actually construct it would have to come later. A new museum to replace the current one has been discussed for decades.