Community Update – City awarded DNR Stewardship grant; Aquatics offering study update; Housing Needs/Assessment Questionnaire deadline



Community Update – City awarded $545,974 DNR Stewardship grant; Aquatics offering survey update; Housing Needs/Assessment Questionnaire deadline

Wisconsin Rapids awarded DNR Stewardship grant

I am excited to announce that we were successful in our pursuit of a DNR Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program grant in the amount of $545,974! This grant makes a bold statement toward supporting our long-range East River Bank improvement project. We will strategically apply these grant funds to the first phase of the improvements, currently under consideration.

Screen Shot 2016-01-13 at 10.21.02 AMThe Wisconsin Legislature created the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program in 1989 to preserve valuable natural areas and wildlife habitat, protect water quality and fisheries, and expand opportunities for outdoor recreation.

As residents of this community, we should all be proud that the State of Wisconsin has chosen to award Wisconsin Rapids this grant. Our selection strongly indicates that our plans for growth, development and prosperity in the Downtown Waterfront District are recognized far beyond our borders.

Answer the call for Aquatics Survey

Due to the well-documented challenges of reopening Mead Pool for another season in 2016, your City leaders are looking to you, our citizens, to help guide us toward the best course of action to meet our community’s recreational aquatics needs.

To gauge your thoughts and desires, the City will conduct a telephone survey about Mead Pool and other potential aquatic facilities in Wisconsin Rapids.  Scheduled to begin the third week of January, the survey will call randomized households in Wisconsin Rapids as well as an online survey will be available.

We hope that this survey will inform and drive the decision-making process, by providing insight into the community’s aquatics needs in terms of facilities and programs; the amount of money people would be willing to pay for a new aquatics center; and views on collaborating with partners.

Options under consideration right now include:

  • Build a new pool at a cost of $3.5 to $5 million, while considering installation of splash pads in neighborhood parks; and/or
  • Partner with the South Wood County YMCA to construct a regional public aquatics center.
  • Options to consider both within a reasonable amount of capital expenditure.

To further ensure public input, we will also conduct focus groups and a community forum. In the meantime, I encourage residents to “answer the call” and give voice to their feelings when called by a survey representative. We plan to report Initial survey results in February.

Reminder: Residents invited to complete Housing Needs/Assessment Questionnaire

If you live, work, and play in the City of Wisconsin Rapids and surrounding communities have not yet had the opportunity to complete and submit the housing study and needs assessment, please take a few minutes to do so by the deadline January 22. We truly seek as much citizen input as possible in order to accurately identify how our existing housing stock meets current housing demand and what changes may be necessary to meet future needs.Housing Survey I strongly encourage residents to please take 10-15 minutes to fill out the survey, which you can access by clicking web link:

While electronic surveys are preferred, paper copies also are available at various locations in and around the Wisconsin Rapids area.

For more information, please call 715-421-8225.

Mayor Zach Vruwink


Common Council appointment marks historic landmark, City Hall Holiday Open House, Citizens Needed to Serve


ImageCommon Council appointment marks historic landmark, City Hall Holiday Open House and citizens needed to serve.

Common Council appointment marks historic landmark

Lee Thao takes the oath of office at the Common Council meeting on Dec. 15, 2015.

Lee Thao takes the oath of office at the Common Council meeting on Dec. 15, 2015.

At its Dec. 15 meeting, the City of Wisconsin Rapids Common Council, Lee Thao took the oath office to fill the District 1 aldermanic seat vacated by Chad Wirl. He will represent District 1 until April 16, 2016, when a special election will be held for the office.

After council debate as to the options and process of filling the vacancy, a motion was made to appoint Lee, who expressed interest in the position, until a special election would be held. With the council split 4-4 on the motion, I am pleased and proud to have cast the tie-breaking, deciding vote in favor of Lee’s appointment. Along with the four Council members who supported him, I think Lee is a most worthy selection. He has long been active in the community and had previously expressed interest in getting more involved in city government. As someone who strongly believes in representative democracy, I feel this landmark appointment- our first Hmong representative on the council- symbolizes our recognition that the City’s interests are best served by embracing a diversity of cultures and perspectives.


Alderperson Chad Wirl shares his thoughts to the public and the Common Council on Nov. 17, 2015 following his resignation.


Video: Alderperson Chad Wirl

After much reflection and consideration, Chad decided to give up the seat, effective November 30. Since his election in 2009, Chad has served our City very well, elevating awareness of District 1 concerns such as neighborhood cleanup and community policing. We will miss his direct contributions to our government, and I personally wish him well in his ongoing endeavors. Chad will be formally recognized at the January City Council meeting.

 City Hall Holiday Open House

Holiday Open House Invite[1]We invite all City residents to join us on December 22, for our annual City Hall Holiday Open House. This festive event will take place from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. in the City Hall Lobby. You’ll be able to visit with alderpersons, commissioners, committee members and City staff; while enjoying refreshments, and live music and decorations by area students. Bring a non-perishable food item to be distributed to a local food pantry. I look forward to seeing you there! For more information, call 715-421-8216.

Citizens needed to serve

During my State of the City address last February, I repeated my ongoing call to local residents to be more engaged in shaping our community’s future. Specifically, I highlighted how citizens can actively participate through their involvement as part of Mayor’s Councils on Beautification, Sustainability and Youth.

Of course, these three initiatives only hint at the many ways that dedicated individuals can play a role in their community. We are always looking for people to apply for and accept appointment to a number of boards, commissions and committees whose deliberations and decisions impact the City to a significant extent.

Just two examples are the Board of Zoning Appeals, which hears matters relating to property variances and appeals; and the Industrial Development Board, whose members review and take action on potential developments in our city business parks. Again, these are just a couple of examples of how you can make a mark, both now and perhaps, for generations to come.

Screen Shot 2015-11-13 at 10.32.45 AMAt our City website, you can find a complete list of boards and commissions that offer opportunities for you to have an influence. Take a look … and get involved!

Learn more about running for an elected position in this video by RCCA Media.

Thank you for reading,

Mayor Zach Vruwink


COMMUNITY UPDATE – Housing Survey, Christmas Tree Walk



Community Update – Housing Survey, Christmas Tree Walk

Area residents invited to complete Housing Survey

In order to identify our community’s current and future housing needs, the City has contracted with Wisconsin-based planning and community development consultant Vierbicher Associates to conduct a housing study and needs assessment. The purpose of this study is to evaluate how our existing housing stock meets current housing demand and what changes are necessary to meet future needs by filling housing gaps and establishing priorities for project funding.

I strongly encourage residents who live, work, and play in the City of Wisconsin Rapids and surrounding communities to please take 10-15 minutes to fill out the survey, which you can access by clicking web link:

Housing SurveyWhile electronic surveys are preferred, paper copies are available at City Hall, McMillan Memorial Library, Aging & Disability Resource Center, River Cities Community Access Media, Heart of Wisconsin Chamber of Commerce, Mid-State Technical College, and the village and town halls of Grand Rapids, Nekoosa, Port Edwards, Rome and Vesper.

Paper copies should be turned in to the City of Wisconsin Rapids, attention of Adam Tegen, Director of Planning and Economic Development at Wisconsin Rapids City Hall, 444 W. Grand Avenue; or in designated drop boxes at any of the locations listed above. For more information, please call 715-421-8225.

 Christmas Tree Walk

Looking for something festive to do this weekend? Celebrate the holiday season with more color and glitter for the Inaugural Christmas Tree Walk at South Wood County Museum, 540 3rd Street S., in Wisconsin Rapids. This year’s festivities take place this Saturday and Sunday, December 5 and 6, from 1:00-5:00 p.m.

Christmas Tree Walk at South Wood County Museum, 540 3rd Street S., in Wisconsin Rapids.


Video: Watch a sneak peak of this weekends event.

Those who attend will be treated to the sight of 16 Christmas trees, lovingly designed and decorated for the season by a variety of individuals and local organizations. You also will enjoy complimentary refreshments, and live entertainment provided by talented vocalists and instrumentalists. This event is sponsored by South Wood County Historical Corporation, Mayor’s Council on Beautification and supported by an Incourage Community Foundation ‘What If’ grant.

Thanks for reading!

Mayor Zach Vrwuink


COMMUNITY UPDATE – Thanksgiving, Rekindle the Spirit, 2016 City Budget, American Heroes Café



Community Update – 2016 City Budget, Thanksgiving, Rekindle the Spirit 

Recap of 2016 Wisconsin Rapids budget

On November 17, 2015  the formal presentation and public hearing of the 2016 City of Wisconsin Rapids budget to the City Council for discussion and action was held. With the hard work and dedication of the city staff, a budget that encompasses our operations was presented. In accordance with state law on tax increases, the tax payer affect will be the smallest within our taxing authorities- State, School District, Technical College and County . The 2016 budget passed with a unanimous 8-0 vote.

Screen Shot 2015-11-25 at 1.03.08 PMAfter a few years of being involved in the budget process, I have come to view our budget as an opportunity for our organization to set goals and work to achieve them. The 2016 budget has been prepared with the objective of no layoffs and no reduction in City services while addressing our needs in infrastructure, community development, public safety and overall well-being. It is a privilege to help guide our staff through this process. Much lies on the horizon for 2016 – challenges of which I am confident we can address and opportunity to make our city an even better place to live, work and raise a family.

I am mindful that you, just as I, are committed to putting the citizens of the City of Wisconsin Rapids first when making any and all budget considerations. I truly believe that this budget represents the best intentions of fulfilling my promise to do just that, while placing the most critical needs of our community in priority.

Rekindle the Spirit Holiday Lighting and Parade

Screen Shot 2015-11-25 at 12.59.37 PMTonight from 5:30-7:30 p.m. the Heart of Wisconsin Chamber of Commerce will host our annual Rekindle the Spirit Holiday Parade and Celebration in downtown Wisconsin Rapids. It all begins with a lighting ceremony at Veteran’s Park @ 5:45pm. A parade to follow that begins in the Rapids Mall parking lot traveling across Grand Avenue bridge ending at 4th Street. Make your way to Hotel Mead after the parade for hot chocolate, cookies and a visit from Santa! I look forward to seeing you there!


Thanksgiving is a time when we offer thanks. A time when we sit down at our tables with those we love we not only reflect on what it means to be grateful, but also how we can give thanks by giving back to our community. The commitment, generosity, and compassion of the residents of Wisconsin Rapids who selflessly volunteer their time each day is truly something to be thankful for. In particular, I’d like to recognize those at St. Luke’s Church and its partners, as an example of our community’s outstanding local charitable organizations, who will ensure – for the 16th year- this Thanksgiving season that those in need will have a warm, home cooked meal to enjoy. I, myself will be volunteering for the Thanksgiving dinner on Thanksgiving Day from Noon-1:30 p.m. at 2011 10Th Street South, Wisconsin Rapids, WI.  There is no charge for the meal.

Heroes Café

In honor of Veterans Day, I had the privilege of sharing time with some Central Wisconsin veterans, police officers and firefighters, at the American Heroes Café Central Wisconsin at the Lowell Senior Center.  Since September 23, the café has been a place for active and retired service people to get free coffee and donuts – and a way to connect with their brothers- and sisters-in-arms.

Screen Shot 2015-11-13 at 10.20.50 AMBill Haack, who served in the U.S. Navy for some 20 years, brought this concept to our community from the original American Heroes Café in Kenosha. I was proud to talk with Bill and others about their experiences, and to learn how much this gathering point means to them.

May we salute every day of the year the brave men and women who help to ensure our freedom and safety!

Veterans Day programs from the area are filmed and produced by RCCA Media volunteers and their staff.

Veterans Day at the Wood County Courthouse

Veterans Day in Veterans Park in Wisconsin Rapids

Veterans Day activities in Port Edwards

Thank you for reading and Happy Thanksgiving!

Mayor Zach Vruwink


COMMUNITY UPDATE – Streamlining Development, Wisconsin Rapids to host a Veterans Stand Down and an online survey offers a chance to display our sense of community



Another effort to streamline future development and land-use.

How we position ourselves to support development can mean the difference between a successful project in our city and no project. This is the reason why we have continuously focused on the way we interact with developers, investors, and business people. Cumbersome or outdated rules and regulations often times found in our city’s Ordinances can be an impediment to development resulting in lost time or worse, lost projects/opportunities. Our present zoning code- the document that sets forth what development and use of land is appropriate hasn’t seen a substantial update since the early 1980s. As we all know, a lot has changed in the world and our city since then. TO this end, the City of Wisconsin Rapids is setting forth with a major project to rewrite its zoning code to make it more modern and user friendly. In order to gather valuable input that reflects the concerns and needs of our residents, we have invited selected citizen shareholders to be part of this important project and encourage anyone else interested in participating to join us during a two-hour workshop at City Hall on Tuesday, November 3, beginning at 6:00 p.m.

Screen Shot 2015-10-28 at 2.55.01 PMOur consultant, Civi Tek Consulting, will facilitate a dialogue among members of the Planning Commission, the Zoning Code Rewrite Task Force and invited residents designed to identify general and specific major policy issues the new zoning code should address in new or different ways. We’ll be seeking feedback regarding the current code and its administration, and we will then collaborate with workshop participants to identify and evaluate alternative solutions to the key issues. Our ultimate goal is to develop consensus on what needs to be addressed in the rewrite and gain sufficient direction to begin drafting the updated zoning ordinance.

We are look forward to workshop participants taking full advantage to engage in this unique opportunity. When completed, the new zoning code will be readable and understandable. It will be integrated into other land-use regulations and be internally consistent, with no overlapping or contradictory provisions. Graphics and drawings will be used to increase reader comprehension to be more user-friendly.

Of course, we want this process to be transparent to all our citizens. As we continue along the path to a zoning ordinance that meets the needs of a growing and progressive community, we will post updates at the City website We also encourage you to call Adam Tegen, Director of Planning & Economic Development, at 715-421-8225, or email to RSVP for this important project.

Wisconsin Rapids Veterans Stand Down

I am pleased that Wisconsin Rapids will again host an event to provide support to our nation’s military people. This year’s Wisconsin Rapids Stand Down will be held on Thursday, November 5, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., in the Centralia Center.Screen Shot 2015-10-29 at 10.26.51 AM During the Stand Down, veterans will be able to learn about resources offered by the Veterans Administration (VA) and a host of other community agencies: VA benefits and enrollment, employment programs, credit counseling, Social Security, health screenings, post-traumatic stress syndrome, drug and alcohol treatment, financial counseling, housing and shelter information/referrals, and legal aid through community partnerships. Homeless and at-risk Veterans will have the opportunity to receive food, clothing and other resource assistance.

I urge you to encourage military family and acquaintances to attend. You can also help by personally donating items for attendees. For additional information, contact Wood County Veterans Service Officer Rock Larson at 715-421-8420; or the Tomah VA at 800-872-8662, ext. 64201.  To learn more what a Stand Down event is about, visit Wisconsin Rapids 2014 Stand Down event video from RCCA Media:

Online survey offers a chance to display our sense of community

In my 2015 State of the City address I focused on citizen engagement as a key to building a healthy community. Having continued to emphasize this theme throughout the year, I acknowledge that personal feelings about families, friends, neighbors, co-workers and local government can influence the degree to which our residents are willing to become more involved in the well being of their community.

So, how do south Wood County residents feel about their community? What ‘attaches’ you to living here? You can help to answer this question, while helping a native of our community. Kristi Anderson, a 2007 graduate of Lincoln High School and current graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is working on a research project designed to measure the feelings of community attachment in the south Wood County area.

All current residents of the south Wood County area who are at least 18 years of age are invited to share their thoughts by completing a short 15-minute survey. To take the survey, click on the link here:

In order to provide Kristi with as much feedback as possible, I am also requesting that you please share this survey with others in your work and social networks.

Once the data has been collected and analyzed, Kristi looks forward to sharing her findings with local residents and community organizations. For more information, contact Kristi directly here.

Many thanks for participating in and sharing this opportunity!

Thank you for reading,

Mayor Zach Vruwink


Celebrating Downtown revitalization efforts, Wisconsin Downtown Action Council’s Destination Downtown coming to Wisconsin Rapids and volunteers and sponsors needed for innovative STEM Scouts program



Celebrating Downtown revitalization efforts, Wisconsin Rapids to host Wisconsin Downtown Action Council’s Destination Downtown and New, Innovative STEM Scouts program launches here

Celebrating Wisconsin Rapids’ selection for State downtown redevelopment program

I continue to be inspired and energized with our progress. To celebrate the latest phase in our Downtown redevelopment process, citizens and local public officials gathered this past Wednesday at Wood County Courthouse for a formal announcement and information-sharing session on Wisconsin Rapids’ selection for the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation’s Connect Communities program.

IMG_2157Naleeta Burr, our community account manager for Economic and Community Development for the State of Wisconsin, discussed how Connect Communities will help us to leverage the unique assets of our Downtown district, by providing access to resources and networking opportunities to assist and enhance our revitalization efforts. Program services include: on-site assistance to identify needs and offer assistance; multiple online and face-to-face training and networking opportunities; and access to resources and materials developed for Wisconsin Main Street communities.

Following the brief presentation, Burr joined us for a walking tour that highlighted recent private investments in our Downtown, featuring stops at Whiskey Rapids, the Flat Iron Building, 340 West Grand’s new residential lofts and Karen’s Wine & Stein.IMG_2197

During her presentation, Burr pointed out that while the State can assist communities in their revitalization efforts, the local communities themselves must take the lead. She listed eight guiding principles for successful downtown redevelopment:
• Comprehensive – an ongoing series of initiatives is vital;
• Incremental – small projects make a big difference;
IMG_2191• Self-Help – only local leadership can breed long-term success;
• Public-Private Partnership;
• Identify and Capitalize on Existing Assets;
• Quality – from storefront design, to promotion, to special events;
• Change – in community attitudes and habits; and
• Action Oriented – frequent, visible changes in the downtown’s “look” and “feel.”

Recognizing that a vibrant Downtown area is key to reigniting the Wisconsin Rapids community, local residents, government leaders, business people and nonprofit organizations have all helped to drive a strategic plan of action that acknowledges decades of past business and residential planning and redevelopment efforts, while incorporating current private investments and City property sales transactions in the waterfront district. I am pleased and proud that our community’s collaborative efforts have been recognized by the State of Wisconsin.

By acknowledging how downtown’s and historic commercial districts play an important role in community prosperity, the Connect Communities program reinforces our own local vision of how the Downtown waterfront district can serve as a commercial-residential-recreational-historical centerpiece.

Wisconsin Rapids to host State summit on downtown revitalization

Our community’s progress toward achieving our vision of a vibrant and prosperous Downtown district will be on full display, Wednesday-Thursday, October 21-22. That’s when Wisconsin Rapids has the honor of hosting the Wisconsin Downtown Action Council’s Destination Downtown, the 2015 Summit on Downtown Revitalization, at Hotel Mead.

“Destination Downtown” celebrates innovative ways to strengthen and grow downtown areas – many of which we have incorporated right here in Wisconsin Rapids, including: quality-of-life initiatives (Supermass Redesign), collaborative action (Tribune Building)  and entrepreneurship / private investment.

150701_WRB_Public_Meeting_1_Boards_Page_8The summit will feature inspiring speakers; enlightening panel and public engagement on topics such as master planning, public arts, tourism and market expansion; and best practices and resources from Wisconsin and beyond. Economic development professionals; local and state elected officials; small business owners; and arts, business and civic leaders will be on hand.

The Summit kicks off on Wednesday night with a special tour of Glacial Lake Cranberries, one of central Wisconsin’s oldest cranberry marshes; and a reception at Karen’s Wine and Stein in downtown Wisconsin Rapids.

I encourage everyone who is interested in the health and well being of our Downtown district to attend. Not often do we get to play host and this opportunity is sure not be missed! For more information and to register, go to

Volunteers and sponsors needed for innovative STEM Scouts program

I am thrilled to share exciting news about an innovative program from the Boy Scouts of America that will be available to youth in our community, beginning now.

STEM Scouts (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) is a new coed pilot program designed to focus on the exciting opportunities for youth in science, technology, engineering and math. Through weekly meetings and four-to six-week modules covering a variety of disciplines, STEM Scouts will show youth how to apply STEM in their everyday lives and encourage them to develop these experiences into future careers.

After a resounding response to the original pilot program by Scouts, leaders, parents and school officials in Knoxville, Tennessee, STEM Scouts selected the Samoset Council, our local Council as one of just 12 more councils in the nation to participate in the expanded program.

I strongly urge adults who have a STEM background to sign up as volunteers to help mentor STEM Scouts, lead special labs and host field trips. Plenty of volunteer positions are available for adults without STEM experience, as well. To make your mark, please email, or give Amanda Flannery a call at 715-409-6690.

Sponsorship opportunities also are available for local clubs, parent organizations, businesses and other organizations. Some of the Wisconsin Rapids organizations already involved include Verso Corporation, Renaissance Learning, Mead Charter School, Lincoln High School and Woodside Elementary School. For more information, check out the STEM Scouts website at

Let us, as a community, give our utmost support to this unique program and help our area’s youth expand their interests and career potential!

Have a great day and thank you for reading,

Mayor Zach Vruwink


Community Update – The rest of the Mead Pool story



Community Update – The rest of the Mead Pool story

During my 2014 State of the City Address, I discussed our community’s need to explore sustainable approaches to upgrading our local aquatics offerings. That need became more apparent last week, when Inspectors from the Wood County Health Department and Wisconsin Department of Health Services examined Mead Pool and found a number of health and safety hazards stemming from frost and high groundwater levels that lifted the pool basin out of the ground. Following their on-site inspection of the pool, these agencies moved the pool operational permit to a “Conditional” status.

The good news is that “Conditional” status provides us the opportunity to evaluate the hazards, formulate a plan to address them for a potential opening of Mead Pool for 2016.

To begin the process of potentially reactivating our pool permit, City staff has contacted various suggested contractors to perform a required engineering review that would cover currently identified areas of concern, as well as problems that may not have not yet have been detected. This review will provide the information we will need to identify the likely cost of making the necessary repairs that would allow us to re-open the pool for one more year in 2016. Following a review of the findings and associated costs, the City will consider making the improvements to satisfy the ‘Conditions’ placed by the inspectors.

Of course, this review-and-repair process represents is a short-term fix to our community’s aquatics issues. For some time, I have advocated that we as a community invest in our collective quality of life, through the creation of a place to nurture the potential of children and families through youth development, while helping to improve the health and well-being of all our citizens, both now and in the future. City Commits to Public Aquatics Last December, the City Council reaffirmed it’s commitment to providing public access to aquatics.

In 2014, the John E. Alexander South Wood County YMCA announced plans to construct and operate a new facility in Wisconsin Rapids. While the original site is no longer under consideration, I was thrilled that, after its acquisition earlier this year of Riverview Hospital, Aspirus continued its commitment to the proposed partnership with the YMCA. The City, with the approval and support of the City Council and the Park & Recreation Commission, continues to pursue a partnership with the YMCA on public access to the aquatics portion of a facility under consideration.

As your Mayor, I pledge to continue leading our City’s pursuit of other creative collaborations to provide a long-term solution to our aquatics needs.  We will share more as information becomes available as well as opportunities to participate in any public meetings on the subject.