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A centennial gift: Two alumni create new campus model

| Denise Olson

Each spring, hundreds of UW-Eau Claire alumni return to campus to attend the annual Viennese Ball, and recent years in particular have provided opportunities for these returning Blugolds to see all the wonderful additions and updates to campus. From the beautiful new Davies Center, Centennial Hall and exterior facelift to Schofield Hall, to the complete redesign of the central campus mall with Little Niagara Creek as a focal point, a lot has changed. It has been delightful to hear the comments and reactions as alumni take in all the changes that have brought the look and function of lower campus up to date.

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From the left: Colin Hall, '10 art, and Craig Heinen, '10 accounting, have worked for two years to create a new and updated 3D model of campus, a gift that the alumni pair will donate on Sept. 30.

Two alumni who took that tour of campus at the 2014 Viennese Ball made an observation that began a two-year journey and a labor of love that will culminate will the unveiling of a very special project. Close friends from the class of 2010, Craig Heinen and Colin Hall, walked through the Old Library breezeway that night in 2014 and took a good look at the iconic campus model display, which was the centerpiece of the breezeway for decades. Seeing how outdated the model had become, both men decided that night that if there was enough interest and resources available, they would create a new model to reflect the beautiful new additions to campus.

Through a series of inquiries, Craig's email made its way to Kimera Way in the UW-Eau Claire Foundation, who offered Foundation funding for the supplies to support the time and labor the pair were willing to volunteer.

"We are often approached by people who want to give things to the University and/or do something for us.  I have to be honest, when we first were approached I was a little skeptical about what Colin and Craig wanted to do, and wondered if they knew what they were biting off," Way said. "It’s been an absolute joy working with them — they have been organized, diligent and persistent in their follow-up to ensure we all remained on the same page regarding the project."

The model Heinen and Hall created was unveiled in a special ceremony  Sept. 30 in the Old Library breezeway.

Though neither of the men had previous experience in creating such a large model, they were confident that their combined skills and access to technology would provide everything they would need to make their vision become a reality. Heinen, an accounting graduate now working for Dunwoody College of Technology in Minneapolis, described the overall process, which began with a lengthy logistics assessment and plan. The first questions were: Where would this new model live? How big is that space? What sort of design would look and work best in that spot?

"At first, we thought we were going to have to build something that could be taken apart and reassembled in place. Once the breezeway was determined to be the home once again, and we were able to pin down exact doorway size, we were able to create one piece," Heinen said, referring to the 6-by-7 foot model they created. "The original model was a large rectangle, and our piece is similar in size but not so symmetrical. It has a sort of flow to the shape that reflects the space, including the major roads and the river."

Once the scope of the overall model was determined, the specific elements became a straightforward, step-by-step process. Hall, who majored in art and works as a designer at St. Thomas University, had experience creating 3D models for museum displays, and his skill transferred well to building an architectural model to scale. The pair used a software called SketchUp to create the designs, all exact replicas of the campus buildings, designed with the help of files and images of all the buildings and facilities.

"The university had virtually no 3D-renders of any buildings except the new Davies and Centennial Hall, so we had to cross-reference old blueprints with reference photos we took during several trips to campus, alongside Google Earth satellite photos, which was very time consuming," Hall explained.

"Every last window is accounted for, so if a student is visiting and knows where their residence hall room is going to be, that exact room can be found on the model," Heinen said.

Through the use of 3D printing technology, the hollow models were created from a durable plastic and designed to accommodate lighting attached to a circuit board much like the earlier model. In addition, the various components of the layout are attached to the base magnetically; when more changes and remodels take place on campus, updates can be made to the model. The upcoming Garfield Avenue redesign, for example, is something the duo worked into their plan, which they see as an educational opportunity for future students.

"It was important to us to create something dynamic that has the capacity to change with campus, although this slowed the overall process down somewhat," Heinen said, referring to the installation of the magnet system. "Since this is a school with talented art students right across the bridge, we envision those students as a future resource in keeping this project up-to-date in years to come."

These two designers aren't quite ready to totally let go of the project after unveiling, however. There are some ideas that were pushed to the back burner, but could possibly become reality in updates over time.

"I still dream about having an actual flowing river, though I can’t figure out a way to make it without requiring a lot of maintenance that the university probably wouldn’t want to take on," Hall said.

By the time this remarkable gift is unveiled in the breezeway, Heinen and Hall will have put in more than 2,000 hours of work over the course of two years. These proud alumni are thrilled to bestow this impressive gift to their fellow Blugolds.

"Craig and Colin's efforts are testament to the fact that there are many ways people can make a difference here. This has been a long process, and their steadfastness is a great tribute to them and the project,” Way said.