The Priory provides home for former Children’s Center

Outside summer view of the PrioryThe former Children’s Center at UW-Eau Claire has a new name and a new home. The UW-Eau Claire Children’s Nature Academy opened June 11 at the former St. Bede Monastery.

Blugold Real Estate LLC, a subsidiary of the UW-Eau Claire Foundation Inc., announced the purchase of the monastery in October 2011. The property, now called The Priory, includes 112 mostly wooded acres in the Town of Washington and three building complexes totaling approximately 80,000 square feet. It is located three miles south of the UW-Eau Claire campus. The sale price was $1 million.

Kimera Way, president of the UW-Eau Claire Foundation, said this is the first time the Foundation has invested in real estate to support the mission of the university, adding that the acquisition preserves an iconic Chippewa Valley institution and provides numerous opportunities for potential future uses by the university and the Eau Claire community.

“The Priory acreage increases by one-third the amount of land available to the university in the Eau Claire area and offers possibilities that we cannot even envision at this time,” Way said. “So this represents an investment in both our present and our future.”

The beautiful setting in such close proximity to the main campus, along with the residential space, provides many opportunities to explore new and unique offerings.
— Interim Chancellor Gilles Bousquet

In announcing the sale, Sister Michaela Hedican, prioress of the Benedictine order, said the sisters were pleased to be able to sell St. Bede’s to a foundation whose mission is to support UW-Eau Claire.

“St. Bede’s was founded nearly 50 years ago as an educational institution, and it is satisfying that it will continue in support of UW-Eau Claire,” Hedican said.

The first use of the property by the university is the relocated Children’s Center. Campus School, which previously housed the Children’s Center, was razed in June to make way for the university’s new Education Building. The university had been planning to build a new Children’s Center next to the Human Sciences and Services building on Water Street. However, bids for the project exceeded the $3.8 million budget, and options for how to best proceed were explored, including off-campus relocation sites.

Nature Center classroom with studentsRebecca Wurzer, director of the Children’s Nature Academy, said The Priory offers opportunities for additional programming not possible at the on-campus location.

“We are excited that this facility enables us to implement the nature-based curriculum and programming that we have always envisioned for the new center but on a much larger scale,” Wurzer said. “In addition, the building is much more spacious than the one that was planned on campus.”

UW-Eau Claire students are the primary users of children’s center services, which include the infant and toddler care program. In addition to students who use the center’s child care services, hundreds of students either work, volunteer or engage in observation activities at the center annually. UW-Eau Claire has developed a convenience shuttle service to efficiently transport students and parents to and from The Priory.

Child playing outside at the Nature CenterBefore children’s center operations could be relocated, renovations were completed to meet current code and licensing requirements. The Children’s Nature Academy occupies approximately one-third of the overall building space at The Priory. The remaining two-thirds, which include considerable residential space, will be available for other purposes.

“The Priory holds great promise for expanding UW-Eau Claire academic programming,” said Interim Chancellor Gilles Bousquet. “The beautiful setting in such close proximity to the main campus, along with the residential space, provides many opportunities to explore new and unique offerings.”

Bousquet said one of his primary objectives during his yearlong appointment as chancellor is to identify the best possible uses of The Priory and create a plan that will maximize those uses by the university and potential external partners.