Building Commission approves new $75M crime lab, 19th century-style beer garden

MILWAUKEE -- A new $75 million state crime lab and law enforcement center in the Milwaukee area and a 19th century-style brewery and beer garden at the Old World Wisconsin historic site were among the projects that won approval Wednesday by the state Building Commission.

The commission approved, without discussion, all of the $803 million worth projects requested for funding by Gov. Scott Walker. More than half of the new projects, about $450 million worth, would be paid for through new borrowing.

The crime lab would replace an existing 40,000-square-foot facility in south Milwaukee. The new 150,000-square-foot lab would be in either Milwaukee County or Waukesha County. It would include space for DNA testing, toxicology reports, forensic imaging and evidence processing. The new facility would also house a state Department of Justice training center, a Division of Criminal Investigation field office and a regional office for the attorney general.

The project's costs grew from $53 million last year to the estimated $75 million now. The commission approved Walker's request to borrow the $75 million needed for the project.

Attorney General Brad Schimel justified the increase in comments to Wisconsin Public Radio.

"We want to make sure we're not coming back asking for more and more and more," Schimel said. "So, we kind of shot for the moon with it. Hopefully, it will come in lower than that."

The new facility could end up costing less if the current crime lab can be sold.

Old World Wisconsin, the living history museum located in Eagle, will partner with the Museum of Beer and Brewing on the planned $1.6 million brewery and beer garden. The project approved by the commission Wednesday would be paid for with gifts.

The brewery would be the first of its type in the United States to combine brewing techniques from the 1800s with heirloom hops and barley grown on Old World Wisconsin farms to create authentic beers, according to a summary of the project. It is estimated to brew about 100 barrels of beer per year, available for purchase at the site.

The project will interpret early history and technology of brewing in the state, while also providing a stream of revenue for Old World Wisconsin, the summary said. The museum is located about midway between Madison and Milwaukee.

The commission also approved placing $361.3 million in a fund that could be tapped for projects not specifically enumerated. That could include many across the University of Wisconsin System that were not approved. The university asked for nearly $795 million but was approved for only $128 million.

Two Democratic commission members — Rep. Dana Wachs, of Eau Claire, and Sen. Janis Ringhand, of Evansville — voted against denying seven building projects. Those projects in Milwaukee, Platteville, Eau Claire, Madison and La Crosse can compete for the $361 million in money approved for all state agencies to use.