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Davies Center: A Model of Sustainable Design

Construction of W.R. Davies Student Center began March 7, 2011, and the building opened its doors July 30, 2012. Past, present and future students of UW-Eau Claire are paying for their new student center through segregated fees assessed since 2000. The new student center, like its predecessor, is named in memory of William R. Davies (1893–1959), the university’s second president.

In keeping with UW-Eau Claire’s strategic goals of stewardship and sustainability, the Davies Center incorporates eco-friendly elements including a green roof and sustainability standards designed to consume 30 percent less energy than current codes require.

The original Davies Center left the campus landscape in August 2012 and the site was redeveloped as green space. The student center is bordered on the north by the Little Niagara Creek, which has been incorporated into the Central Campus Mall. Immediately south of Davies Center is the 230-acre Putnam Park, acquired by the university in 1957 under the Davies administration. Davies Center occupies a site that was once the historic meeting grounds of the Dakota and Ojibwe people and other Woodland Nations.

Materials + Resources

Many repurposed and renewable materials were used in the construction of Davies Center. The reclaimed wood in The Cabin and the lounge areas off the Blugold Living Room is old-growth eastern white pine repurposed from the 15-story Globe grain elevator on Lake Superior, built in 1887.

Wall paneling on Level 1 of Davies Center is a laminate of bamboo, a species of grass — a renewable, fast-growing and durable alternative to wood that can be grown with little to no fertilizers, pesticides or irrigation. The panels are made of narrow strips of bamboo bonded together. Even that process is environmentally friendly, using a formaldehyde-free, soy-based adhesive. The paneling is Amber Edge Grain bamboo plywood, a Plyboo product supplied by Smith & Fong.

At least 50 percent of the wood-based materials and products used in Davies Center are certified in accordance with the principles and criteria of the Forest Stewardship Council.

The flooring on the first and second levels of Davies Center is terrazzo, made of repurposed granite, quartz, marble and glass pieces set in a binding agent. Terrazzo is extremely durable, easily cleaned and maintained, and will last the lifetime of the building. Invented in Italy more than 1,500 years ago, terrazzo was also used in the original Davies Center.

The rough limestone inside and outside of Davies Center was quarried in Fond du Lac. The smooth limestone was quarried in Winona, Minnesota.

Exterior windows in Davies Center are highly efficient low-E glass. Two panels of glass are sandwiched together with a gas sealed between them to reduce heat conduction through the window. Low-E panes also have an ultra-thin metallic coating that reduces heat transmission through the window by selectively reflecting the infrared part of the light spectrum, to reduce interior heating in the summer and heat loss in the winter. Less energy is required to keep the building temperature constant.

Wall coverings, floor coverings, paints and fabrics in the building are low-VOC, releasing low levels of volatile organic compounds upon installation and throughout their lifetime. This contributes to improved indoor air quality, making the building more habitable from the time of construction. Many furnishings in the Davies Center were relocated from the original Davies Center.

Energy Efficiency

Davies Center’s building management system ensures the conservation of as much energy as possible. The computer-controlled system makes it possible to control the lighting, heating, cooling and ventilation of the entire building from a central location. During cold months, the heat exchange system uses heat from the heating system’s exhaust line to preheat the incoming air. The system works in reverse during the summer, cooling the incoming air. This heat exchange system reduces costs for climate control in Davies Center, which also shrinks our carbon footprint. Occupancy sensors located in each room turn off lights when the space is unoccupied for some time.

In total, Davies Center is designed to consume 30 percent less energy than the standard State of Wisconsin building codes require.

The large windows on Davies Center’s north side admit as much sunlight as possible, lessening the need for additional lighting during the day. The lighting in these areas is controlled so that when there is enough natural light, the electric lighting automatically dims. This prevents wasted lighting expenses and also overlighting, which can add to human stress and fatigue. This design feature influenced decisions all the way back to the initial building layout, because it is desirable to orient the large windows to the diffuse ambient light of the north rather than the direct sunlight to the south. This simultaneously emphasizes year-round natural lighting and minimizes the impact of glare and unwanted summertime heating.

Like virtually all exterior lighting on campus, all of Davies Center’s exterior lighting is light-emitting diode, or LED. These fixtures are ideal for outdoor lighting because they efficiently direct the lighting only at the desired area and eliminate night-sky light pollution. The exterior is better illuminated with a clear white light rather than the yellow of standard sodium-vapor lights. LED uses one-third to one-half the energy of traditional lighting, saving $60 to $100 per year per fixture.

Converting from traditional to LED exterior lighting was made possible campuswide during the 2012–2013 year with support from student segregated fees allocated by the Student Office of Sustainability. The conversion saves money over the lifetime of the lights, cuts greenhouse gas emissions, and reduces the labor and waste from the replacement of shorter-lived high intensity discharge light bulbs.

LED lamps are also used in several rooms inside Davies Center — The Cabin, Alumni Room, Chancellors Room, and the Dakota and Ojibwe Ballrooms. These bulbs have lifetime of 25,000 hours compared to 10,000 hours for a similarly performing compact fluorescent lamp. With 266 of these bulbs — each of them nine watts more efficient than the CFLs — Davies Center will save at least 2,400 watts of electricity while they are all on. The LEDs are also completely dimmable, allowing for better lighting control, and they have a much warmer color temperature than CFLs, better complementing the chandeliers in which they are installed. LED accent lighting can been seen throughout the building interior — in The Cabin, Marketplace, Media Lounge, and above each of the fireplaces.

Green Roof

Davies Center’s Level 3 terrace is a vegetated roof that reduces the amount of runoff from the building. The green roof retains rainfall, absorbing much of the rain and allowing the rest to drain much more slowly though the drainage system into Little Niagara Creek. In contrast to a hardscaped roof, this allows the water level of the creek to rise more slowly during heavy rainfall, protecting its banks from damage due to erosion. It also acts as a filter for the rainwater, limiting the amount of pollutants that the runoff carries from the rooftop. The roof design’s solar reflective and vegetated surfaces also provide insulation and help lower urban air temperatures.

The mix of plants on Davies Center’s green roof is designed to tolerate a range of moisture conditions and absorb water quickly. Plants include dianthus, prickly pear cactus, golden garlic, yarrow and numerous species of ferns, sedge and sedum.

Renewable Energy

Four solar panels on the roof of Davies Center reduce water heating costs by using the sun. The panels were designed and built in Waunakee, using solar thermal collectors manufactured in Starbuck, Minnesota. The sun heats a transfer solution of distilled water and propylene glycol, an organic compound that keeps it from freezing. As the solution absorbs sunlight and is heated, it moves through the panels and is pumped through a heat exchanger. The heat is transferred to water stored in holding tanks, manufactured in Milwaukee. This system provides hot water year round, saving Davies Center money and creating a zero-pollution source of hot water.  In other campus buildings, water is heated using steam coming from the coal and natural gas boilers on upper campus.

Wind is a renewable, nonpolluting resource, and wind energy is part of the sustainability plan of Davies Center. The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire buys certified renewable energy credits through Xcel Energy’s Windsource® program. UW-Eau Claire students pay for the energy credits through a student segregated fee collected for the specific purpose of reducing the university’s negative impact on the environment. The Student Office of Sustainability, a commission of the Student Senate, allocates funding for projects that make UW-Eau Claire a more sustainable campus. All of Davies Center’s electricity comes from wind power by way of green power purchases that help fund the building of wind farms, primarily in southwestern Minnesota.

Alternative Transportation

A drive-through access and waiting area for Eau Claire Transit buses is located near the southeast entrance of Davies Center. The campus is served by two bus routes — one for the upper campus, and one for the Water Street area. All buses are equipped with bicycle racks.

Since 1997, UW-Eau Claire students have provided financial support to the Eau Claire Transit service through a portion of student segregated fees. During the 2010–2011 academic year, the amount paid to support the city bus service was $23.25 per student. Because of this annual financial support, students, faculty and staff may use the Eau Claire Transit system free of charge when they show their Blugold Card.

To encourage non-automotive commuting, bicycle parking racks are permanently installed on each side of Davies Center. Covered parking for bicycles is provided a short distance away, under McIntyre Library. The inverted U design of the racks is widely acknowledged to keep bikes secure and free from damage.

Parking is available in the lot south of Davies Center, but the number of spaces was reduced when the building was constructed. Not increasing the number of parking spaces is helping reduce pollution and land development impacts from single-occupancy vehicle use.

Water Efficiency

The plumbing design of Davies Center incorporates strategies that, together, use 20 percent less water than the use baseline calculated for the building. Increasing water efficiency reduces the burden on municipal water supply and wastewater systems.

All restroom fixtures are water-conserving. Low-flow fixtures consume only one-half gallon per minute, using increased water pressure and thorough aeration to match the effectiveness of their older, less efficient counterparts. Motion-activated fixtures conserve water because the sinks can’t be left on, and they are also more health-friendly. Toilets are dual flush, allowing you to decide how much water to use — matching the 1.6 gallons-per-flush baseline, or saving 31 percent with 1.1 gallons-per-flush. The average is a savings of 15 percent.

Recycling + Composting

Throughout the Davies Center are containers that support single-stream recycling. Earlier recycling initiatives required separating acceptable paper materials from plastics, metal and glass containers. With single-stream recycling, recyclable materials are co-mingled in a single container. These materials include plastics (recycling codes 1–7), glass and metal beverage containers, various kinds of paper, cardboard and paperboard. Non-recyclable materials — destined to take up space in a nearby landfill for centuries to come­ — have a separate container. These two receptacles are conveniently placed side by side. Davies Center was designed to have an easily accessible area dedicated to separation, collection and storage of materials for recycling.

Composting containers can also be found in Davies Center and Hilltop Center. Food waste should be included in this waste stream, together with all the non-recyclable service items from Marketplace and Riverview Cafe. Blugold Dining uses exclusively compostable materials manufactured from paper or corn-based polymers that are designed to break down in a municipal composting facility. In addition to the post-sale materials from the composting receptacles, Blugold Dining’s composting stream also contains a substantial amount of kitchen waste that is carefully and thoroughly diverted from the landfill.


With the construction of the Davies Center, the Little Niagara Creek was converted to a more natural state. Three sections of culvert were replaced with graceful bridges, making it more like the trout stream it once was. The creek now echoes the curve of Davies Center and has been incorporated into the Central Campus Mall as a major feature of the landscape, rather than being pushed to the margins. To restore the creek, many years of deposited silt and sediment was removed from the streambed, eroded soil banks were rebuilt, and invasive plant species like Reed Canary Grass were pulled up. The stream bed and banks were shored up with riprap, stone that is used to prevent erosion and movement of waterways. Small cascades were added to the course, providing more oxygenation and also the sound of flowing water to those passing by. Along its banks, stones were laid down to allow people to access the creek, and native prairie grasses were planted to stabilize the banks and prevent erosion. These native species are beneficial for many reasons: they provide educational opportunities and form the basis for a more diverse ecology than typical green grass. Their extensive root systems also store a large amount of carbon over long periods of time.

Native plants were incorporated in all of the landscaping of Davies Center, either as buffer zones for sensitive areas, such as the banks of the Little Niagara Creek, or as decorative plantings. These plants are water-efficient and do not require the application of pesticides or fertilizers, making it both easier to maintain than regular grass and more environmentally friendly.

An important part of the landscaping is found between Davies Center and Phillips Hall. That area, called a bioswale, is composed of a combination of stone and mulch and planted with carefully selected native plants. It is shaped to collect silt and other pollution in stormwater runoff from the paved areas around it, preventing damage to the ecology of the Little Niagara Creek and the Chippewa River. The bioswale also acts as a buffer, much as Davies Center’s green roof does, keeping stormwater flows to a manageable level, which reduces the chance of flooding. While not looking particularly imposing, bioswales are the first line of defense in protecting waterways.

The area located just across the Little Niagara Creek is the site of the original Davies Center, transformed into a green area that is part of the Central Campus Mall. When the original Davies Center was deconstructed, approximately 85 percent of its total weight was recycled into new construction and other materials offsite.