Photo caption: This is a rendering of the UW-Eau Claire Science and Health Sciences Building.
The Wisconsin Legislature’s Joint Committee on Finance voted today on the 2023-25 capital budget and approved $231.3 million in completion funding for the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire Science and Health Sciences Building.
“I am sincerely grateful for the Joint Finance Committee’s endorsement of this transformational project,” Chancellor James Schmidt said. “We would not have received this enumeration if not for the strong bipartisan support of the Chippewa Valley’s legislative delegation over the past five years, the dedication of Mayo Clinic Health System as a partner, and the advocacy of the Eau Claire Area Chamber of Commerce and our community.”
The funding would allow construction of this laboratory-intensive academic facility to move forward, though it must still be approved by the State Senate and Assembly before the budget is sent to the governor for final approval. The JFC, which held a public budget listening session at UW-Eau Claire in April, recommended using one-time cash from the state’s budget surplus to replace the university’s science facility, Phillips Hall, which was constructed in 1963. JFC voted to utilize $226.8 million in cash and $4.7 million in program revenue supported borrowing for the completion funding.
“Replacing Phillips Hall with a modern research laboratory facility designed for the work our faculty and students are known for will help UW-Eau Claire continue to develop Wisconsin’s future workforce in high-demand STEM fields,” Schmidt said. “From biomedical engineers to nurses, the new Science and Health Sciences Building is a critical investment that will pay dividends for generations to come.”
The Associated General Contractors of America’s construction impact calculator estimates that constructing this facility will generate $604.8 million in direct, indirect and induced economic benefits for Wisconsin. Construction is tentatively expected to begin in early 2024. Planning for the building has been ongoing since the first phase of funding was approved in the 2019-21 state budget.
“I will keep working with our partners, the Legislature and the governor to keep this project in the budget as their process moves forward,” Schmidt said. “I appreciate the support of UW System President Jay Rothman and the Board of Regents for recommending this project in their capital budget request for this biennium. This investment in UW-Eau Claire’s academic mission reflects the stellar reputation of our faculty and staff, and its impact will be felt by students and our community for decades.”
The new Science and Health Sciences Building will be home to the STEM departments currently housed in Phillips Hall, which have partnered with more than 350 external organizations on research projects over the past 10 years. The building includes 10,000 square feet of laboratory spaces dedicated to the university’s second-in-the-world collaborative agreement with Mayo Clinic Health System, funded by a $13.7 million philanthropic gift from Mayo approved in the first phase of funding. It also will provide a permanent home for the Blugold Center for High-Performance Computing, which utilizes a supercomputing array from Hewlett Packard Enterprise with support from a National Science Foundation grant.
The new facility will be constructed on the site of the Katharine Thomas and Putnam residence halls, which were built in the 1950s and demolished in fall 2022. Former Wisconsin governor and UW System President Tommy Thompson joined Schmidt and Dr. Richard Helmers, regional vice president for Mayo Clinic Health System – Northwest Wisconsin, at the ceremonial start of demolition on the two residence halls in March 2022.
“The UWEC-Mayo partnership has the potential to fuel business and learning opportunities that will both put a mark on the region and the state,” Thompson wrote in a 2019 op-ed for the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram. “The Science Hall project at UW-Eau Claire is the kind of big idea project that will make a difference for the Chippewa Valley and our entire state and set the pace for even more innovation and investment.”
Gov. Tony Evers toured Phillips Hall with Department of Administration Secretary-designee Kathy Blumenfeld in March 2023 after recommending completion funding for the new building in his capital budget proposal.
“It’s great for us to work with UW-Eau Claire and their partners and the private sector — Mayo Clinic and others — that are really behind some really unique ways to teach science and prepare for the workforce,” Evers said. “It is a reflection of the good work the folks at the university do, but it’s also a reflection of the community and the region at large.”