Osteopathic College plans progressing

November 29, 2018

JEFFERSON -- Things seem to be progressing at a steady rate as the the College of Osteopathic Medicine, Inc. attempts to locate a major facility for training future doctors at what its representatives say is an ideal location on Jefferson’s southwest side.

According to representatives of the college, Jennifer DeKrey and Mark Lefebvre, sensible strides are being taken toward realization of the college, these including obtaining land needed for the project, financing, development of a conceptual plan, cooperating with city and county officials, and creating expectations for accreditation and matriculation of a first graduating class.

DeKrey and Lefebvre were featured speakers at a town hall-style meeting Tuesday at the Jefferson County Courthouse conducted by the county’s finance committee.

Contrary to original, tentative expectations city of Jefferson officials and college representatives entertained, the college is now being planned not for the north side of the city, but for county land on the southwest side of Jefferson near the workforce development center.

DeKrey and Lefebvre said it is hoped the osteopathic college would change the overall physician residency model in the state. They and others involved in the project want residencies in each county.

“So the economic impact of this college coming out of Jefferson would be significant,” DeKrey said earlier this year.

If it is up and running in the next few years, the college might graduate classes of 160 annually.

DeKrey said the economic impact of these osteopathic physicians as they move their practices into the more remote parts of Wisconsin and to the inner city of Milwaukee will be significant.

Also Tuesday Jefferson County Administrator Ben Wehmeier provided a another summary of a preliminary draft copy of a letter of intent between “Jefferson County, a quasi-municipal corporation” and The College of Osteopathic Medicine, Inc.

“It has been determined by mutual agreement between the county and the college that development of a technology/research/medical/advance manufacturing (park) on farmland currently owned by the county would provide mutual benefits for both parties,” a portion of the six-page letter stated. This land is located between the state Highway 26 bypass of Jefferson and Business Highway 26 near the county’s Workforce Development Center on Collins Road. “The focal point of the park is to establish the college, attract aligned business partners to increase employment in Jefferson County, provide services aligned with the county’s Health and Human Services operations, and advance economic development goals within Jefferson County.”

The letter goes on to discuss possible time lines for when the college must have certain things accomplished for the land deal to take place. It also describes the parcel as being “generally located in the southwest corner of the city of Jefferson and surrounded by the Jefferson County central highway facility, parks maintenance facility, health and human services operations multiple buildings, workforce development center, UW-Extension and economic development building, and Potter’s field.”

Obligations outlined in the draft document include that the college demonstrate 50 percent of funding has been secured, based on a budget of $125 million, by Dec. 31, 2019, and that DeKrey and Lefebvre remain involved in development through the opening of the college.

Among its obligations, the county must sell 75 acres of land in the area near the workforce development center and other county facilities at the market rate when the college satisfies its requirements.

Ongoing benchmarks include the college establishing an accreditation advisory committee by June 30, 2019, developing an enhanced concept design plan of the site by that same date and obtaining a commitment from a medical institution or academic unit to be a partner with it by Dec. 31, 2020. The college must also achieve 90 percent of funding for the project by Dec. 31, 2020, develop one corporate partner by 2021 and matriculate its first class no later than the fall of 2022. If the college fails in these requirements, the land reverts to county ownership.

Wehmeier said the site has very good access to the state Highway 26 bypass of Jefferson, as well as Business Highway 26, which runs through the city’s downtown. He noted there is plenty of room in what is known as an economic “opportunity zone” for other businesses and residences to establish themselves, bringing potential prosperity to that part of the city. Wehmeier noted that the opportunity zone in which the site is located is one of the largest between Milwaukee and Madison.

According to Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority, the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act established opportunity zones to spur private investment in distressed communities throughout the U.S.

“This new Opportunity Zones program will allow investment in some of our nation’s most economically challenged communities through tax incentives,” the WHEDA website stated.

The tax incentives encourage private investment to accelerate economic growth and job creation.

Wehmeier said in addition to the great access the site of the proposed college enjoys, it has always been a place where people are cared for, right up to this day, with facilities such as the workforce development center and human services departments located there. In the county’s early years, the site housed what was known as its “poor farm.” A Potter’s field, where the indigent were buried, can still be seen in one of the cornfields.

Wehmeier said the switch from the college being interested in the north side Jefferson location to its south side came when those investigating the feasibility of locating the college in the county seat realized the south side might present “a more viable option.”

Wehmeier said the south side option on county land offers access, space, financing tools, collaborative opportunities, utilities and the possibility of expansion of infrastructure. The land could also continue to serve as a site where people are cared for.

“Jefferson offers a wonderful opportunity between Milaukee and Madison in a small, honest, Midwestern community,” Lefebvre said Tuesday as he addressed the group. “And osteopathic medicine is just that -- basic and honest.”

Jefferson Mayor Dale Oppermann was present and offered encouragement to the college to locate in the city. Oppermann has been supportive of the school coming to Jefferson since the idea was first brought up.

Lefebvre called Jefferson an “extraordinary community, adding he likes the “feel” of the city and its strategic position in what he called an “intellectual corridor” in the state -- and country -- between Milwaukee and Madison. He said the site offers great access and “visibility” for the campus. Lefebvre also mentioned potential faculty members from around the United States have been inquiring about hiring opportunities already.

Another public input session is set for Dec. 4 and a resolution related to the draft letter of intent could be developed and sent to the full county board around that time, with supervisors taking formal action on the document at their regular meeting for December.

“With all of you, and our corporate partners and private philanthropists -- all together -- we can build a team and that is what we are doing now,” Lefebvre said. “This is a historic moment. The opportunities we have here are plentiful. This is about Jefferson County, but also the state. This (college) is a lynch-pin in how Wisconsin’s medicine will evolve and grow. I can feel my pulse speed up when I talk about this. This is good stuff.”

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