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La Crosse Center project moving forward; mayor, council members to get raises in 2021

The $42 million La Crosse Center renovation and expansion will move forward with a round of applause and unanimous consent from the city’s Common Council, which also voted Thursday to increase the 2021 salary of the council and mayor.



The council voted 12-0 to accept the compromise put forth by La Crosse Mayor Tim Kabat and Council President Martin Gaul last week, which adds another 3,000 square feet to North Hall and includes solar panels on the roof of the arena, thanks to change in scope for the maintenance portion.

“The La Crosse Center Board, our staff, the stakeholders and really the community has done a phenomenal job over the last months to really come up with the concept that I would argue is a better concept than what we saw last year,” Kabat said.

Gaul pointed out that there were some differences of opinion about the larger concept proposed last July, but said the concept met guidelines laid out by the council and kept within the $42 million budget.

“The concept we have tonight has got pluses and minuses for some folks in this room — there’s no getting around that — but the bottom line is that in front of us is a smart compromise that we need to move forward on,” Gaul said.

The compromise came about thanks to a $4.2 million contract with Johnson Controls Inc. to upgrade four different city buildings, including the La Crosse Center. Kabat agreed to include the lighting and heating upgrades that had been planned to be done in the maintenance portion of the project, freeing up $1 million in the expansion budget; however, he called on the council to include a solar panel array in the concept to keep an eye on sustainability and keep energy costs for the building down.

The approved concept for the project, which is expected to add another $6 million to the center’s existing $38 million economic impact, adds a second ballroom to the facility, as well as additional meeting rooms, an atrium and a skywalk connecting two sides of the building on the western side. There are also plans for a rooftop garden terrace over North Hall and a solar array. The project also includes about $6 million in maintenance.

Council member David Marshall summed up the feeling of the council members, saying, “I can’t be more pleased with how this ended up.”

The next step is deciding on exactly what the financing plan will look like. The city is considering either 20- or 40-year bonds, as well as raising the room tax. City officials have also discussed requesting additional funds from La Crosse County.

While the financing plan is being worked on, the architects and La Crosse Center Board will start refining specific features and materials.

“Very soon we’ll have visuals and we’ll see what this is going to look like, and I think everyone is excited to see that,” Kabat said.

Salary increases

The council voted 11-1 to increase the mayor’s salary to $89,000 from $77,200 effective 2021, with council member Barb Janssen casting the dissenting vote.

The increase marks the first salary increase for the mayor since 2009.

“We haven’t done that in a while and it’s in the best interest of the city that we do this,” Marshall said.

Council member Doug Happel agreed, saying that the city needs professional-level compensation for the person responsible for the city’s policies and functions.

Online exclusive: Wisconsin and La Crosse area public-sector employee salary databases

“If we are a professional organization, we should compensate the person who is in charge of all of the department heads at an appropriate level,” Happel said.

Janssen said she agreed with the argument, but would prefer a smaller increase than the one proposed.

The change goes into effect after Mayor Kabat’s term ends, as do the approved changes to the council salaries.

The council voted 9-3 to give the next council a raise, with members Andrea Richmond, Scott Neumeister and Gary Padesky objecting.

Council member Jacqueline Marcou proposed increasing the wages to $700 a month for regular council members and $900 for the council president, arguing that the compensation is critical in encouraging more people to run for public office, especially those who would need to find child care or take time off from their day job to make it work.

“It’s important to me, and I think it’s important to our constituents that we have a council that’s representative of what our community looks like. … We need to have a representative council and need to break down the barriers, and I think this is a good first step,” Marcou said.

Richmond argued that perspective council members should run out of a civic duty, recalling times when she attended council meetings that went to 1:30 in the morning, while also working 40-hour weeks when she first was elected.

“I made it work. I’m not a rich person. I do it out of my duty to volunteer,” Richmond said.

However, other council members added that people with day jobs and single parents should also have the opportunity to do their civic duty.

“This should not be the purview of business owners and old retired guys to serve on this council,” Gaul said.

Peter Thomson, La Crosse Tribune 

A worker heads out on a wet and slushy afternoon commute Thursday at City Brewery.

Peter Thomson, La Crosse Tribune 

A robin rides out Thursday’s wintry storm perched in an icy tree.

Mayo doctors in La Crosse call breast cancer screening tool an early success
mtighe / Mayo Clinic Health System 

On the left is a mammogram image, which has not detected the potential tumor pinpointed with the molecular breast imaging on the right. Mammograms and MBIs are expected to be complementary to each other, vastly improving the chances of early detection of breast cancer, when it is easier to cure.

Doctors at Mayo-Franciscan in La Crosse say a new, cutting-edge breast cancer screening tool is already paying major dividends. Mayo is one year into a study of local patients who have received molecular breast imaging, which uses a radioactive tracer and specialized camera to detect breast cancer, and which could increase the rate of detection by more than 250%, doctors say.

As part of the study, the hospital has confirmed seven cases of cancer through molecular breast imaging — four of which would not have been detected through a traditional mammogram.


“It might sound like a really small number, but for those four women, the difference is very real,” said Carolyn Flock, a program manager at Mayo. “It’s terrifying to think that we haven’t been able to screen for those things … but it’s exciting that we’re able to do it now.”

Molecular breast imaging is particularly effective for the roughly 50 percent of women who have dense breast tissue.

For those women, mammogram results can often be inconclusive, because the tissue and any potential tumors appear white and cloudy, blending together.

But with molecular breast imaging, results are rendered in color, allowing tumors to be spotted much more easily.


“We’re very lucky to have our own breast cancer radiologist, Dr. Rich Ellis, who’s very attuned at reading mammograms,” Flock said. “But even he can’t see a lot of things that come through on those tests.”

This new type of imaging has been rolled out gradually, and researchers are still trying to determine best practices, including how often women with dense breast tissue should be tested.

Mayo announced the development of molecular breast imaging two years ago. Doctors described it as a scientific breakthrough, saying it was even more effective at detecting cancer than originally thought.

“There was even some skepticism that it could be this good,” said Deborah Rhodes, a breast diagnosis consultant and one of the developers of molecular breast imaging. “It really has (exceeded) our expectations.”

The combination of a mammogram and molecular breast imaging is far more likely to catch cancer during its early stages, when the disease is most curable, than a mammogram alone.

It’s the difference between a fairly straightforward surgery and painful, drawn-out treatment, the difference between life and death, doctors say.

According to the American Cancer Society, if breast cancer is detected and treated when it is still localized, the five-year survival rate is 99%.

If it is detected after it has spread to other parts of the body, such as the lungs or liver, the five-year survival rate is 27%.

Mayo researchers did not patent molecular breast imaging devices, and in the past two years, it has spread to hospitals across the country.

Flock said she believes Mayo to be the only Wisconsin hospital offering molecular breast imaging, but that could soon change.

She made clear that it is available to all patients, whether or not they take part in Mayo’s study, and that it is often covered by insurance. Patients should check with their providers, she said.

Molecular breast imaging is considerably cheaper, for both hospitals and patients, than magnetic resonance imaging, known as MRI.

The latter is also not typically covered by insurance, unless a patient is deemed a high risk for a particular disease.

For the birds

The robins were confused Thursday — and hungry. Lightning and thunder accompanied the snow, sleet and hail. A few schools closed. Several thousand folks temporarily lost power throughout the region as winds gusted to 45 mph. The roads and sidewalks were a slushy mess. That all added up to a lovely spring day in Wisconsin. There’s a 50-50 chance of more rain Friday afternoon. We should return to milder weather this weekend, with temperatures in the mid-40s.

Todd Sommerfeldt / ASSOCIATED PRESS 

Bryson DeChambeau hits on the fourth hole of Thursday's Masters. DeChambeau is tied for the lead after one round.


Onalaska assistant police chief on paid administrative leave

Onalaska’s assistant police chief was placed on paid administrative leave Wednesday after being named in connection with Sunday’s drunken driving arrest of the city’s fire chief.


City Administrator Eric Rindfleisch offered no further details Thursday regarding Assistant Police Chief Jeffery Cavender.

“At this time all I can state is that the assistant police chief is on paid administrative leave,” Rindfleisch said.

Contributed photo 

Onalaska Fire Chief Billy D. Hayes

Onalaska Fire Chief William D. Hayes, who is also on paid administrative leave, was arrested Sunday for a speed violation and drunken driving, according to the police report.

When police told Hayes why they stopped him, Hayes said, “Yeah, I’m the fire chief,” according to the complaint.

Hayes told police that he was just with Cavender and had a couple of beers, according to the police report.

Police asked Hayes if he had any other OWIs while handcuffing him. Hayes said no and proceeded to say, “You just ruined my career,” according to the police report.

“What I don’t understand is that I’m the fire chief and you’re going to do me this way,” Hayes said while performing the field sobriety test, which he failed. Police said Hayes admitted to consuming alcohol and that the officer could smell intoxicants.

Onalaska Police Chief Troy Miller requested that the La Crosse County District Attorney’s Office take over the case “to ensure a fair and impartial proceeding for Mr. Hayes,” in a letter to Tim Gruenke, La Crosse County’s district attorney.

In 2018, the city of Somerton, Ariz., dismissed Cavender after the Somerton City Council voted 5-2 against renewing his contract because he didn’t comply with several terms of the contract, according to KYMA-TV.

La Crosse County Circuit Court felony cases in April
La Crosse County Circuit Court felony cases in April

Contributed photo 

Onalaska Fire Chief Billy D. Hayes