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UW-Eau Claire prepares for science building construction

| Gary Johnson

Photo caption: From left, UW System President Tommy Thompson was joined by Dr. Richard Helmers, regional vice president of Mayo Clinic Health System in Northwest Wisconsin, and UW-Eau Claire Chancellor James Schmidt to knock the first bricks from Putnam Hall on March 16. The new Science and Health Sciences Building will be built at the site of the residence hall and nearby Katharine Thomas Hall. (Photo by Shane Opatz)

The first bricks tumbled from the side of a University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire residence hall on March 16 in the symbolic next step toward construction of the new Science and Health Sciences building on lower campus.

During a ceremony recognizing Tommy Thompson’s nearly two years as UW System president, the former Wisconsin governor joined Chancellor James Schmidt and Dr. Richard Helmers, regional vice president of Mayo Clinic Health System in Northwest Wisconsin, in using sledgehammers to knock bricks from Putnam Hall.

Putnam and Katharine Thomas Hall, UW-Eau Claire’s two oldest residence halls, were both built in the 1950s and will be demolished starting this summer; the new science building would be built on the site next to Vicki Lord Larson Hall and McIntyre Library.

Schmidt thanked Thompson for his support of UW-Eau Claire as the university has sought funding in the state budget for the Science and Health Sciences building that will replace what the chancellor called the “aged and inefficient Phillips Hall.” Schmidt announced that UW-Eau Claire will name a first-floor commons area in the new building after Thompson.

“I hope that all of us over the last couple of years have understood the importance of science and health,” Schmidt said of the need for the new building. “The new Science and Health Sciences building will be a key part to help this country, this state and the world remain strong and safe.

“This project has been years in the making. Thanks to great community partners, bipartisan legislative support and the diligent work of our campus design team, the Science and Health Science building moves closer and closer to reality.”

The cost of the new science building and razing Phillips Hall is $256 million.

The first phase of the project was enumerated in the 2019-21 biennial state budget and totaled $109 million, including $93.25 million in state funds, $13.7 million from Mayo Clinic Health System and about $2 million in campus funds.

The second phase of funding totaling $147 million still must be approved in a state budget before construction can begin.

Helmers said Mayo Clinic Health System is “thrilled” to be part of the new science building project.

The Mayo Clinic Health System funds will help pay for a 10,000-square-foot shared research workspace dedicated to the research collaboration with UW-Eau Claire that started five years ago, Helmers said. That collaboration has yielded dozens of jointly developed projects in areas such as cardiology, pediatrics, pharmacy and interventional radiology, Helmer said.

“This space will allow Mayo staff and UW-Eau Claire scientists and students to work in tandem on cutting-edge research that will improve health care outcomes and transform patient care,” Helmers said. “This unique collaboration has the potential to produce critical advances in the care for patients in the Chippewa Valley and throughout the world.

“Our commitment to this project further strengthens our connections through our shared academic and research effort with the university.”

Thompson pointed to the Mayo Clinic Health System collaboration with UW-Eau Claire as evidence of the value of the UW System.

“As I said from the beginning, the University of Wisconsin System, next to our people, is the greatest asset we have,” Thompson said.

“We are not an expenditure. We are an investment in the future. We are a problem-solver for the state of Wisconsin. We are the economic engine that is going to make it all happen.”