County Board endorses plan for osteopathic college in Jefferson

John Molinaro

Wow, this is water.

Wow, this is water.

By JAMES KATES, Bugle Managing Editor

The Jefferson County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday unanimously endorsed a plan to build a new Wisconsin College of Osteopathic Medicine on the site of the former St. Coletta School for the disabled in Jefferson.

The college, which would occupy about 20 acres of the site now known as Sanctuary Ridge, would be “a huge boost to the Jefferson County economy,” board Chairman John Molinaro said.

Gregg Silberg, a osteopathic physician who is leading the effort, told supervisors that osteopaths are well-positioned to fill the need for primary care in rural and underserved communities.

“We know for sure we’re coming to Jefferson,” Silberg said, adding that college officials hope to enroll the first class in the fall of 2015.

Role of osteopaths

Osteopaths diagnose illness and prescribe drugs just as medical doctors do, but they employ a “hands-on” method that emphasizes holistic wellness, Silberg said.

Wisconsin needs about a thousand new physicians every year, 80 percent of those in primary care, he said. Students at the new college will do two years of study on campus, then fan out around the state for two years of clinical training.

If the college can draw students from Wisconsin, then have them do residencies in the state, about 90 percent of them will stay in Wisconsin, Silberg said.

Molinaro emphasized that the county will help with logistics but is not able to provide financial support for the college. The City of Jefferson has pledged $500,000 toward site development, which it hopes to recoup later through property-tax payments.

Interim administrator named

In another matter, the board named Kathi Cauley as interim county administrator beginning April 1. She will fill in for Gary Petre, who is retiring after more than seven years in the job.

Cauley will serve as the county’s top non-elected official while continuing in her post as director of human services.

The board has launched a search for a new county administrator with the help of a professional consulting firm. Supervisors hope to name a new administrator by the end of May, Molinaro said.

In other action Tuesday:

• Supervisors delayed the purchase of the old Countryside Home property as a site for a new county highway shop.

The county sold its former nursing home along County Highway W several years ago to a private developer for $500,000. Development efforts failed, and the abandoned property is now owned by the Bank of McFarland.

Pressured by federal regulators to liquidate bad debt, the bank offered to sell the site to the county for $200,000. The county agreed, provided that all asbestos was removed from the building. The bank said it spent $330,000 doing that.

Recent inspections have indicated that more asbestos may be located in a tunnel beneath the building. Further asbestos removal may cost as much as $150,000, Molinaro said.

The county needs a clearer picture before it buys and demolishes the building, so the bank has extended the closing deadline beyond the board’s next meeting, which is April 16.

• The board rejected a proposal from the Infrastructure Committee for a $77,215 contract with Barrientos Design to do architectural and engineering design work for the Lake Mills highway facility along Interstate 94. The county wants to add a salt shed at the site.

Supervisors rejected the contract on a 20-8 vote, with two members absent, after some on the board said the contract should have been opened for bidding.

“To me, this just doesn’t pass the smell test,” Supervisor Steve Nass said. Supervisor Jim Schroeder criticized what he called the “secretive” nature of the project.

Molinaro told reporters afterward that the county would solicit bids for the work, but he thought it was unnecessary.

“Nobody hid this,” Molinaro said. “There have been at least four committee meetings where this has been discussed publicly.”

Because Barrientos knows the project and has done preliminary work already, “there’s a 99.99 percent chance” it will end up being the low bidder anyway, he said.

• The board approved a $100,000 economic-development loan to Rushing Waters Fisheries of Palmyra to help with a $1.2 million expansion.

The loan must be paid back over seven years at a 2 percent interest rate, and is contingent on Rushing Waters adding at least five full-time jobs at the site.

• Supervisors approved a resolution declaring April 2013 as Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Month.