UW-Eau Claire Science and Health Sciences Building funding included in UW System biennial budget proposal

At its meeting today in Madison, the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents approved a biennial capital budget proposal that includes funding for a new UW-Eau Claire Science and Health Sciences Building.

The approved budget proposal includes enumeration of $109 million for the new building in the 2019-21 biennium and advance enumeration of $147.15 million in the 2021-23 biennium, for a total of $256.15 million to build the new facility that would replace UW-Eau Claire’s aged and inadequate Phillips Science Hall.

“The Board of Regents approval of funding in the next two UW System biennial budgets for our proposed new Science and Health Sciences Building is welcome news, as there is an urgency to this project,” said UW-Eau Claire Chancellor James Schmidt. “Phillips Hall, our current science building, will be 60 years old when the new facility is completed. Its inadequate classroom spaces and single-purpose labs are deteriorating and increasingly inadequate for research and learning in the 21st century. Given projected workforce shortages in STEM fields, including nursing and other health care professions, the new Science and Health Sciences Building would enable our faculty and staff to provide the multi-disciplinary, high-impact learning experiences that students, external accreditation boards and industry partners need and expect from UW-Eau Claire.”

Schmidt added that UW-Eau Claire is nationally known for its strong tradition of providing students with collaborative research experiences with faculty, and the Science and Health Sciences Building would help ensure the university’s reputation for excellence in undergraduate research continues. Thirty years ago, the UW System Board of Regents designated UW-Eau Claire as the system’s Center of Excellence for Faculty and Undergraduate Student Research Collaboration. In 2017, UW-Eau Claire was named by the Council on Undergraduate Research as the top master’s-level university in the country in providing excellent undergraduate research programs. Over the past five years, 43 percent of UW-Eau Claire undergraduates participated in student-faculty collaborative research.

A new science building to replace Phillips Hall has been identified as a UW-Eau Claire facilities priority since the 2011 publication of its Campus Master Plan, the university’s roadmap for future facilities development. Since 2013, official UW-Eau Claire project priority submissions to UW System’s Office of Capital Planning and Budget have consistently requested that a new science building be funded beginning in the 2019-21 budget biennium, said Mike Rindo, UW-Eau Claire assistant chancellor for facilities and university relations.

Phillips Hall was built in two phases in 1963 and 1966. The following are among the findings of a new science building feasibility study that considered the needs of all affected UW-Eau Claire academic departments as well as feedback from their faculty and students:

  • Phillips Hall is too small to accommodate existing academic demand.
  • Labs housed in the building cannot accept donations of new equipment without removing existing, functional equipment.
  • The aged facility is grossly inefficient: Of the 33 buildings maintained by the university’s facilities department, roughly 27 percent of all annual work hours are spent addressing leaks and equipment issues in Phillips Hall. This is, in part, because the building’s envelope is severely compromised and its design prevents easy repairs.

The possibility of renovating Phillips Hall rather than constructing a new building was also explored.

“Due to the current facility’s piecemeal construction and dated design, there are multiple structural deficiencies, including live load, ventilation, roof and exterior envelope issues, that would make renovating infeasible,” Rindo said. “For example, the live load weight-carrying capacity in Phillips Hall is only one-third of current standards, which severely limits our ability to place scientific equipment anywhere other than the first floor. Similarly, low floor-to-ceiling heights make it impossible to do renovations necessary to meet modern heating, ventilation and air conditioning requirements for a science building.”

All UW-Eau Claire students would use the new Science and Health Sciences Building. The university’s degree requirements prescribe that every student take at least two classes in the natural sciences, one of which must include a laboratory experience. Those classes occur in Phillips Hall, with an average of 5,600 unique students taking a class in the building every academic year.

The Campus Master Plan calls for the new science building to be constructed on the existing site of two lower-campus residence halls, Katherine Thomas and Putnam halls.

“This location for the Sciences and Health Sciences Building has been thoughtfully planned,” Rindo said. “The 2011 Campus Master Plan identified these two residence halls, built in the 1950s, as not being worthy of renovation. And meanwhile, the university has been actively expanding our housing so that we can take these old buildings down. We now have students living in university-sponsored housing in Haymarket Landing downtown and Aspenson Mogensen Hall on Water Street, and our new residence hall currently under construction is expected to open in fall 2019.”

Haymarket Landing, Aspenson Mogensen Hall and the new upper-campus residence hall combined will increase by 1,008 the number of student beds available in university-sponsored housing, and taking Katherine Thomas and Putnam halls offline will eliminate approximately 380 beds, leaving a net increase of about 628 beds, Rindo said. The university’s Campus Master Plan also calls for projects that would add more student housing capacity in the future, he said.

Upgrades to underground utilities near the new science building site as part of UW-Eau Claire’s Garfield Avenue redevelopment project would ensure the new facility has access to natural gas lines. The new building would be adjacent to the university’s Nursing Building, across from the outdoor classroom created as part of the Garfield Avenue project, and near an entrance to the Putnam Park State Natural Area on campus.

The UW System biennial budget request that includes the funding for UW-Eau Claire’s Science and Health Sciences building will next be submitted to the state Department of Administration for consideration as part of the governor’s executive budget.

For more information about UW-Eau Claire’s proposed new Science and Health Sciences Building project, contact Mike Rindo, assistant chancellor for facilities and university relations, at rindomj@uwec.edu or 715-836-4742.