UWEC officially begins new science building project

Published: Mar. 16, 2022 at 6:30 PM CDT
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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) - University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire (UWEC) officially began work Wednesday on a major addition to campus.

The university is adding a new Science and Health Sciences building, which UWEC Chancellor James Schmidt said will cost about $250 million.

“It’s a 350,000-square-foot building. It will hold all of our science and engineering programs, many of our nursing and health science laboratories as well,” Schmidt said.

He said the university has received about 40 percent of the money needed for the project. A majority of the dollars have come from the state. He expects the legislature to approve the remaining dollars necessary for completion in 2023. If lawmakers oblige, the project should be completed by 2026.

“It’s going to transform the nature of science on our campus,” Schmidt said.

The new science building will replace L.E. Phillips Hall.

Assistant Chancellor Mike Carney is spearheading the project.

He’s also a chemistry professor who believes Phillips Hall is outdated.

“The limitations that I experienced when I was a student here in the early 1980s, that it was an OK building back then, but it has not kept up with the times so to speak in terms of being suitable for a research program suitable for teaching in the 21st century,” Carney said.

He points to things like fume hood space for chemistry experiments, which Phillips Hall has in limited supply.

He added, as a professor, it’s hard to attract colleagues to UWEC when other universities have much better facilities.

“It is difficult to recruit new faculty to come to Phillips Hall,” Carney said. “We try to put sort of our best foot foot forward and we try to say, ‘You know, this space is going to be OK for your research program,’ but they can look around and they go, ‘This building was built 60 years ago. It’s not really conducive to research.’”

“When faculty members that we’re trying to hire see that building, they realize that many high school labs are far better than the ones we have. I’m not proud of that but we can be proud that we will have a state-of-the-art facility. I know it’ll drive enrollment. I know it’ll help us attract the best faculty and staff we can,” Schmidt said.

Schmidt said the university will tear down Phillips Hall once the new facility is completed.

The new science building will be located where Putnam and Thomas residence hall are right now. They’re set to be torn down this summer. Wednesday, university officials, including UW System Interim President Tommy Thompson, participated in a ceremony beginning that tear down. They smashed holes in Putnam Hall with a sledgehammer.

Despite Wednesday’s ceremony, Putnam Hall will remain operational until the summer.

Wednesday’ ceremony was also Thompson’s final official visit to a UW campus. He is set to leave his post Friday.

The university will be naming the new building’s first-floor common area after 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 about 10,000 square feet in the building for research and continue its partnership with the university.

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