June 26, 2012. A wrecking crane crashes its heavy ball into the basement concrete walls of what remains of Campus School. Nearby, a construction crane lowers into place a steel beam as the structural skeleton of the new Education Building begins to take shape. Next to Hibbard Hall, another piece of heavy machinery digs a trench across Garfield Avenue to prepare for installation of a steam line and storm sewer that will supply heat to and remove rainwater from the new building.
Meanwhile, in the original W.R. Davies University Center, final preparations are under way to move into the new Davies Center — while workers inside the new student center focus their efforts on finishing interior touches.
Spring and summer 2012 witnessed one of the most intense episodes of construction activity on the UW-Eau Claire campus in five decades. In addition to the start of the Education Building project and completion of the new Davies Center, renovations to The Priory (the former St. Bede’s Monastery; see related story) were completed, and it became the new home of the Children’s Nature Academy (formerly the Children’s Center); repairs to the footbridge across the Chippewa River were finished; and the Haas Fine Arts parking lot on Water Street was expanded and redeveloped.
For students, faculty, staff and visitors, it was truly a summer disrupted as a small army of hard-hat-wearing construction workers went about the business of erecting new buildings to meet the future needs of campus, while tearing down old structures that so well served previous generations of Blugolds.
Terry Classen has been UW-Eau Claire’s director of facilities management for 28 years. He has never before experienced such an intersection of significant projects.
“This level of construction activity is unprecedented in my time here,” Classen said. “While we have had a number of major additions and renovations to existing buildings, you would have to go back to the building boom of the 1960s and ’70s as a comparison for new construction.”
Why so many major projects now?
As with many UW System campuses, most UW-Eau Claire buildings were constructed between 1950 and the early 1970s to meet the huge demand for higher education created by returning World War II veterans who went to college on the GI Bill and the baby-boom generation that followed.
Some of those buildings have outlived their useful purpose and are not suitable for extensive remodeling or reinvestment. For example, Campus School, which opened in 1952 as a laboratory school and served for decades as an elementary school, became functionally obsolete and no longer supported contemporary teaching and learning methods. Additionally, there was an acute need for more modern classroom space that would serve the entire campus.
Plans for replacing Campus School, the Children’s Center and the current Davies Center were years in the making and had to progress through a series of review and approval processes involving the UW System Board of Regents and state government. Bonding for the projects was included in state capital building budgets.
“We are excited about these campus enhancements because we know that the competition is keen for good students,” said Kristina Anderson, executive director of enrollment services and director of admissions. “Giving students the best possible living and learning environment will help UW-Eau Claire remain an institution of choice.”
Current and future building projects are being guided by the 20-year Campus Facilities Master Plan. The plan identifies renovation of existing facilities; construction of new academic buildings and residence halls; closing Garfield Avenue along the Chippewa River to motor vehicle traffic and converting it primarily to pedestrian and bicycle use; and partnering with the greater Eau Claire community to develop shared facilities for the arts and major events.
“The Campus Facilities Master Plan builds on the university’s strategic Centennial Plan and academic planning efforts by aligning campus physical assets to ensure that the needs of the university are well met for many years to come,” said Ricardo Gonzales, director of facilities planning.
Learn more about the Campus Facilities Master Plan at www.uwec.edu/facprojects/upload/MasterPlanExecSumm111411.pdf.
The new W.R. Davies Student Center opened in late August. It is significantly larger — 170,000 square feet compared with 120,000 square feet — than its predecessor, which opened in 1959.
Some of the most noteworthy differences include a food servery that offers a variety of made-to-order cuisines in a food-court-style setting; substantially more ballroom and lounge space for formal and informal gatherings (the large ballroom alone is 8,250 square feet, compared with combined ballroom space in the old Davies of 5,700 square feet); four outdoor terraces; a greatly enhanced student organizations and government complex; a grand staircase leading from the first to second floor; and amenities including a game room, eight natural gas fireplaces, a two-story Cabin performance venue, state-of-the-art audio/visual technology throughout the building and a modern movie theater. Overall, the new center has an open concept with expansive views to the outdoors, including Little Niagara Creek and Putnam Park.
The new student center’s official dedication took place Friday, Sept. 28, during Homecoming weekend.
While many aspects of the new Davies Center are impressive, the biggest contrast between old and new involves sustainability. From the beginning of the planning process, students emphasized incorporating best practices in sustainability not only into the design and construction but also into long-term operations of the building.
“I am so happy that our students took the lead in advocating for designing a new student center that would feature sustainability as a cornerstone of this new addition to campus,” said Beth Hellwig, vice chancellor for student affairs and chair of the Davies Redevelopment Committee.
The list of sustainability features is extensive: construction that will result in the building using 30 percent less energy than current code requires; a green roof that will help maintain building temperature and filter and reduce storm water runoff; extensive use of reclaimed wood as well as bamboo cabinet, trim and surface treatments; water-saving bathroom fixtures; automatic light fixture shut-offs; eco-friendly floor coverings; an energy dashboard to monitor energy consumption; and dishless and trayless food service (utilizing compostable materials instead).
The Student Senate this spring unanimously approved a proposal to offset 100 percent of the electricity used to power the new Davies Center with renewable energy from Xcel Energy’s Windsource program.
“The students have long made it clear that sustainability is a value that they hold in high esteem,” said Phil Rynish, immediate past student body president. “Thus, as opportunities arose to input that value into our student center, we jumped at them. Windsource was one of those opportunities and was another step in giving us an environmentally responsible student center.”
Windsource, one of the nation’s leading voluntary green power programs, allows residential and business customers to purchase 100 kilowatt-hour blocks of renewable energy for a small fee above the existing electric rate. With the Student Senate’s purchase, UW-Eau Claire will become one of the largest Windsource customers in Wisconsin, said James Hanke, community service manager for Xcel Energy.
“Windsource is a great option for the university because they can power the new student center with 100 percent renewable energy without making a capital investment in new equipment and installation,” Hanke said.
The funds for the Windsource purchase will come from the environmental responsibility account managed by the Student Office of Sustainability, a commission of the UW-Eau Claire Student Senate, which is supported by a fee of approximately $10 per semester per student.
Groundbreaking for the new Education Building took place May 18. It was both a day of anticipation and reflection. Anticipation because this is the first new building to be fully funded with state tax dollars on the UW-Eau Claire campus in 30 years (the Human Sciences and Services building on Water Street was the last). Reflection because many alumni of Campus School, as well as faculty who taught in the building for decades, gathered for a final tour, to reminisce and bid farewell to an old friend.
The approximately 180,000-square-foot Education Building is being built between Schneider Hall and Zorn Arena. It will house UW-Eau Claire’s College of Education and Human Sciences administrative units; the departments of education studies, special education, English, and foreign languages; 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.
The building meets the growing demand for high-quality classrooms designed with today’s teaching and learning styles and opportunities in mind. It is designed to make use of newer educational technologies and collaborative learning spaces to accommodate the ways in which students learn outside the formal classroom. Centralizing teacher education faculty in one facility and the up-to-date educational methods classrooms will enable the university to better prepare future teachers, according to Gail Scukanec, dean of the College of Education and Human Sciences and chair of the Education Building Committee.
“We are very excited about the new building,” Scukanec said “The design team has done a remarkable job. The building will be beautiful and functional. It will certainly meet the needs of today’s faculty and students, and, as a campus, will serve us well into the future.”
Construction of the Education Building is scheduled to be completed in November 2013, with classes to be offered there for the first time during spring semester 2014.