Campus readies for flurry of construction
Karen Stuber watched through her UW-Eau Claire office window as a towering crane deftly added a piece of steel to the frame of the new W.R. Davies Student Center building.
“I am just amazed at how every day you look out there and you see something new and can actually see the building taking shape,” she said.
For Stuber, University Centers events services coordinator, construction of the new student center is historically and personally meaningful. She has worked in the current Davies Center for more than 40 years and has staged tens of thousands of events there, including every Viennese Ball.
“It’s going to be fantastic to see it all come together and open the doors, but it is going to be hard to watch this building come down,” she said.
Construction of the new student center began in February, with completion scheduled for summer 2012. It is being built in the former green space south of the current Davies Center. Once the W.R. Davies Student Center is completed, the old W.R. Davies University Center will be razed to create a new campus green space.
The new student center is the first of several major building projects scheduled on the UW-Eau Claire campus during the next two years, with more planned over the next two decades. Approved projects include the $48.8 million W.R. Davies Student Center; the $44.5 million Education Building, which will replace the obsolete Brewer Hall/Campus School complex; and a $3.8 million Children’s Center.
“Our campus is entering the most ambitious and extensive period of new building since the 1960s and ’70s — we have nearly $100 million in projects either under way or in final planning stages, with more projects in the initial planning process,” Chancellor Brian Levin-Stankevich said.
The new student center in various stages of construction
Making facilities improvements a priority
Upon his arrival on campus in June 2006, Levin-Stankevich identified the need to renovate or replace aging university buildings, many of which date from the early 1950s to the early 1970s. The first priority was a new student center.
“During one of my first meetings with student leaders, they asked for my help to achieve their goal of creating a student center to better serve the campus community,” Levin-Stankevich said.
For seven years students had been studying various options for expansion, renovation or replacement of Davies Center. Levin-Stankevich successfully steered the project through the state approval process. (Even though student segregated fees are funding the entire cost of construction and no tax dollars are being used, the campus had to secure bonding in the 2007-09 state budget.)
With bonding in place, planning for the project began. Beth Hellwig, vice chancellor for student affairs, chaired the Davies Center Redevelopment Committee, which included students, faculty and staff. Early on, it was determined that renovation and expansion of the current Davies Center was not viable and that a new building would be the best option.
According to Hellwig, the vision of the committee was to create a center that would serve as a hub of student and campus life.
“While many of us may love the characteristics of the current Davies Center, we are in need of a new facility that can reflect the amazing programs and services that are offered to our university community,” Hellwig said.
From the beginning of the design process, student involvement was paramount, as was the principle of sustainability.
Current projects, along with our plans for the future, are positive signs that we are bringing our buildings and facilities up to the level of the quality of the teaching and learning that go on inside them. -— Chancellor Brian Levin-Stankevich
“We are committed to sustainability and have heard from our students how important it is to them,” Hellwig said. “We have designed a green roof and have incorporated solar panels into the project. We also have worked with the interior design to make sure that we are conscientious about the materials we are using in the paint, floor treatments and woods.”
Highlights of the new building include much larger gathering spaces for ballrooms, The Cabin and the Blugold Room. The building will feature an expansive food court and campus “living room” where students, faculty and staff can informally gather. A substantially enlarged student organizations space, bookstore and multipurpose theater and the construction of numerous meeting rooms will better accommodate the many activities taking place in the new building.
Immediate past student body presidents Dylan Jambrek, Michael Umhoefer and Timothy Lauer served on the building committee and were extensively involved in the design process.
“The new Davies Center is going to provide students with a beautiful and more functional place to study, socialize and live,” Jambrek said. “This construction project represents the beginning of a new era for UW-Eau Claire by expanding opportunities for our students on the most beautiful campus in Wisconsin.”
The new student center also honors the university’s past. The Alumni Room and The Cabin will offer views of the historic Council Oak tree site, which tradition says served as an important gathering place for American Indians and is now prominently featured on the university’s seal. Stained glass, wooden panels, doors and fixtures from the Dulany mansion will be transferred from the current Davies Center to the new building. It was announced at the March groundbreaking ceremony that the new center, like the building it will replace, is to be named after the university’s second president, William R. Davies, who served the institution from 1941-59.
When the new center is completed and the existing Davies Center is torn down, the resulting green space will include an outdoor amphitheater, which will more prominently incorporate Little Niagara Creek into the campus landscape.
Education Building gets the OK
The recently enacted 2011-13 state budget includes funding for construction of a new Education Building. It will be located between Schneider Hall and Zorn Arena. Campus School will be razed to make way for the building, and the Children’s Center currently housed in Campus School will be relocated.
This is the first new campus building to be fully funded with state tax dollars in 30 years. The Human Sciences and Services building (originally called the Allied Health building) on Water Street, constructed in 1982, was the last.
The Education Building will house the College of Education and Human Sciences administrative units; significant classroom space; the departments of education studies, English, foreign languages and special education; and select student support services, including Services for Students with Disabilities, the Student Success Center (providing writing, math and other academic support) and the Office of Multicultural Affairs.
According to Gail Scukanec, dean of the College of Education and Human Sciences and chair of the Education Building Committee, the building is designed to meet the academic needs of the campus now and for years to come.
“It will be a very different kind of building for our campus,” Scukanec said. “Along with housing academic units, classrooms and student success areas, the building is really being designed to serve today’s students. There will be a cyber café and numerous areas for students to work in small groups. The building will have the infrastructure to support the technological needs of the future.”
The project has been approved to proceed to full design and construction. The current timeline calls for construction to begin in spring 2012 with completion in fall 2013.
Children’s Center project delayed
The Children’s Center project, originally scheduled to begin in late May or early June, has been delayed. Bids for the project exceeded the $3.8 million budget, and options on how to best proceed are being reviewed.
Options under consideration include redesign, value engineering and other cost-reduction measures. Because Campus School, which currently houses the Children’s Center, will be razed in spring 2012 for the Education Building project, relocating the Children’s Center to an off-campus site also is being explored.
Planning for the future
In addition to current projects, UW-Eau Claire is planning for future facilities improvements. The 20-year Campus Master Plan is scheduled to be finalized this fall.
The Campus Master Plan is the foundation for future facilities and physical plant development in support of the university’s strategic goal of becoming the premier undergraduate learning community in the Upper Midwest.
It outlines development of new academic and student life facilities, demolition of obsolete buildings, renovation of existing facilities, infrastructure and transportation improvements, acquisition of additional land, and open-space preservation and enhancements. The plan also recognizes the importance of strengthening existing facilities partnerships with the greater Eau Claire community in the form of shared facilities that could be constructed at off-campus locations.
“For the past year, we have been using the theme ‘Excellence is always under construction’ as a way to describe how we are striving to improve the UW-Eau Claire experience,” Levin-Stankevich said. “Current projects, along with our plans for the future, are positive signs that we are bringing our buildings and facilities up to the level of the quality of the teaching and learning that go on inside them.”