By Dylan Deprey
The final step for the military style reform school, Right Step Inc. will have to wait until after school starts to hear the verdict for the go-ahead to purchase the former Centro del Nino School building in the heart of Riverwest.
Community members packed city hall room 301A during the Board of Zoning Appeals (BOZA) Thursday July 28, to voice their concerns for the purchase of the building. The Special Use hearing had allotted only 10 minutes, but went on for another half hour with more testimonials to come.
Right Step Inc. is a certified private school that teaches at-risk-students who have been expelled or are unable to learn in a normal classroom setting in a militarized fashion. They planned to purchase the building to have an all boys school.
“A lot of our kids come from this area,” said Vincent Holly, principal at Right Step. He added that it was a lengthy trip for parents to bring their children to the current location on 76th St near Brown Deer.
The sale of the building falls under WI Statute 119.61. This requires the city of Milwaukee to sell “eligible school buildings” to “eligible education operators.” The term “eligible school buildings” are considered any buildings owned by MPS that are labeled as surplus, underutilized or vacant. This would be the first sale to happen under this law.
The former Centro del Nino School was constructed in 1927, as the Holton State Bank. It was later remodeled in the 1990’s to house a Head Start program as well as for other MPS uses. The building was added to the list and labeled as a surplus school earlier this year by MPS and has been vacant since 2005.
The law also states that when a letter of intent to purchase the property has been filed the city has 60 days to finish the sale. Right Step filed their letter for intent back in February and followed the other stages in the process to purchase the property from the city.
Getting the green light from BOZA was the last step in the process as motion to sell the building passed through the Common Council without recommendation from the Zoning, Neighborhoods and Development Committee on Tuesday July 26.
Brian Rothgery lives two blocks away from the possible campus. He said that the building was not meant for a program like Right Step. He also added that he felt Right Step would not fit in to the dynamics of the neighborhood.
“This is a community who supports public schools, not private or voucher schools,” Rothgery said. “So this is not keeping with the culture of our neighborhood.”
Other community members mentioned the liquor store and two bars located near the campus. Right Step’s plan for designated pick-up and drop-off parking lot located nearby still raised concerns of potential loitering or students running around when school was let out.
MPS teacher Melissa Tempel also lives in the neighborhood and works at school nearby. She addressed the allegations of a pending FBI investigation from a lawsuit involving the staff abusing and humiliating Right Step students during a boot camp at Fort McCoy in 2015.
“I’m wondering why the city would even consider giving a school like this a location within our city with these allegations pending, that’s my number one issue with the school being there,” Tempel said.
The journey continues for Right Step as BOZA does not meet in August and will have to wait until September to schedule a thirty minute contested hearing.
Holly also said that he felt that the neighborhood thought that Right Step being a private school planned to come in take tax dollars from MPS.
“I’m not anti-public schools, I’m pro-kid. Whatever gets our people where they have to go to and helps our kids move in a more positive direction in life,” Holly said.