Higherground — the student-run nightclub on the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire’s upper campus — has closed its doors, after its final event May 11, 2013. A new event space and dance club will open next fall in Hilltop Center, in the lower level of the present Bowling and Billiard Center. The new space will include a stage, a moveable DJ booth and lighting trusses, and will be made disability accessible. In addition, the space outside will be redeveloped as a new outdoor event space, with a new fence, a fire pit and outdoor speakers. Like Higherground, the new event space will be managed by the Activities, Involvement and Leadership office of the University Centers.
Higherground opened February 14, 1986, as Sneakers Dance Club, an alcohol-free campus nightclub that offered music, dancing, informal dining and socializing. An earlier effort to create an alcohol-free social space on a shoestring budget — a brightly lit lounge named The View — closed within months of opening in 1984, the year Wisconsin’s minimum drinking age began to raise from 18.
With 65 percent of UW-Eau Claire freshmen under legal drinking age, however, it was imperative to provide an attractive entertainment alternative. The campus was fortunate in having a dining hall in the heart of the residence hall complex that could be renovated without placing undue strain on other dining facilities. Sneakers was the product of extensive planning by a committee of 16 students and staff who surveyed students, talked with members of campus organizations, and visited other campuses and local establishments to determine what features attracted students. The group concluded that an authentic bar atmosphere was key to the success of a campus alcohol-free facility, and university administrators were prepared to give the necessary financial support. The project was funded primarily by the University Centers.
Sneakers offered a dance floor, high-quality sound system and DJ booth, atmospheric lighting, special foods and beverages, and student management. Intimate groups could gather around cocktail tables or settle into the TV and games area. The menu included pizzas, sandwiches, snacks and a variety of beverages. Sneakers was a lounge and study space during the day, a meal plan option in the evening, and could be reserved by student organizations, administration teams, orientation groups, and external clients on a limited basis.
In September 2000 Sneakers transitioned into The Club Formerly Known as Sneakers, and with the new millennium it became Higherground. With programming support from the University Activities Commission of the Student Senate, the schedule mixed DJs, dancing, live bands, comedy shows, karaoke, acoustic performances and late-night programming. The lounge and eatery offered computers and televisions, video games, billiards, ping-pong and foosball, board games and comfortable seating as well as an informal menu of appetizers, pizza, entrees, beverages and free popcorn. A brief experiment in offering beer sales was not financially successful.
Higherground was renovated and updated in 2010, when energy-efficient lighting and sound replaced the original systems dating back to the club’s opening in 1986.
The pending renovation of the sound system in Hilltop Center this summer presented the opportunity to move the dance club and event space in Crest Wellness Center to the Bowling and Billiard Center — a merger that has been in long-term plans for years. The directors of the University Centers and University Recreation and Sport Facilities created a small committee to discuss and develop plans for merging the spaces. The group evaluated costs and discussed policies for the shared space, and considered various aspects related to the move and merger. In mid-April their plan was approved by the two directors, and deconstruction is now under way.