EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) – The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire (UWEC) officially began work on a major addition to the campus on Wednesday.
The university is adding a new science and health sciences building, which UWEC Chancellor James Schmidt says will cost about $250 million.
“It’s a 350,000 square foot building. It will contain all of our science and engineering programs, as well as many of our nursing and health science labs,” Schmidt said.
He said the university received about 40% of the money needed for the project. The majority of dollars come from the state. He expects the legislature to approve the remaining dollars needed for completion in 2023. If lawmakers compel him, the project is expected to be completed by 2026.
“It’s going to transform the nature of science on our campus,” Schmidt said.
The new science pavilion will replace LE Phillips Hall.
Deputy Chancellor Mike Carney is spearheading the project.
He’s also a chemistry professor who thinks Phillips Hall is outdated.
“The limitations I encountered when I was a student here in the early 1980s, it was an OK building at the time, but it hasn’t kept up with the times so to speak in terms of suitability for a research curriculum fit for teaching in the 21st century,” said Carney.
He points out things like fume hood space for chemistry experiments, which Phillips Hall has in short supply.
He added that as a professor, it is difficult to attract colleagues to UWEC when other universities have much better facilities.
“It’s hard to recruit new faculty to come to Phillips Hall,” Carney said. “We try to put our best foot forward and we try to say, ‘You know, this space is going to be suitable for your research program,’ but they can look around and they say, ‘This building was built 60 years ago. It’s not really conducive to research.
“When the faculty members we try to hire see this building, they realize that many high school labs are much better than the ones we have. I’m not proud of it, but we can be proud of having a state-of-the-art facility. I know this will boost registrations. I know this will help us attract the best faculty and staff possible,” Schmidt said.
Schmidt said the university will demolish Phillips Hall once the new facility is complete.
The new science building will be located where the Putnam and Thomas residence is currently located. They are to be demolished this summer. On Wednesday, university officials, including acting UW system president Tommy Thompson, participated in a ceremony beginning the rollback. They drilled holes in Putnam Hall with a hammer.
Despite Wednesday’s ceremony, Putnam Hall will remain operational until the summer.
Wednesday’s ceremony was also Thompson’s last official visit to a UW campus. He is expected to leave his post on Friday.
The university will name the first-floor common area of the new building in honor of the outgoing interim president.
Mayo Clinic Health System is also partnering with UWEC on the project. According to the university’s website, Mayo is contributing $13.7 million to the project. The hospital system will occupy approximately 10,000 square feet in the building for research and will continue its partnership with the university.
Copyright 2022 WEAU. All rights reserved.