City Council approves site plans for new Science and Health Sciences Building

Unanimous vote sends plans forward, construction set to begin summer 2024
The new Science and Health Sciences Building is expected to be completed in 2027
The new Science and Health Sciences Building is expected to be completed in 2027
Photo by UWEC Artist Rendition

UW-Eau Claire’s brand new Science and Health Sciences Building is now one step closer to breaking ground after a unanimous vote from the Eau Claire City Council.

In their meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 26, the council voted to approve the site plans for the new Science and Health Sciences Building. The vote was 10-0, with one council member absent. 

“It’s a huge step forward,” Michael Carney, interim assistant chancellor for Strategic Partnerships and Program Development, said. “It is one of several big steps that are inline.”

The resolution approves the approximately 2.7 acres of land on UW-Eau Claire’s Lower Campus to be developed into the new science facility. The city also approved the structural designs for the five-story high rise.

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Council member Jeremy Gragert represents Eau Claire’s District 3, which encompasses the UW-Eau Claire campus. He said the plans brought before the city were the culmination of years of work from outside groups.

“The heavy lifting was done internally within the campus, the UW System and the state legislature,” Gragert said. “The city’s role is actually pretty small.”

Gragert said a point of discussion before the vote was the logistical challenges the site presents.

The Science and Health Sciences Building will be located on UW-Eau Claire’s Lower Campus, west of the McIntyre Library, the former site of Putnam and Katherine Thomas halls which were demolished last year.

The site sits between the Chippewa River, Putnam Park and the Garfield Avenue hill and within the Chippewa River floodplain.

The new building will be an approximately 330,000 square foot, five-story highrise between the McIntyre Library and the campus hill (Photo by UWEC)

Carney said the limited space provides some challenges for planning how to construct the new facility.

“Because it’s such a large building and there’s not a lot of extra land around it, we have to think long and hard about how we are actually going to build this thing,” Carney said.

According to the UW-Eau Claire website, the science building project will cost approximately $340.3 million, with funds from the State of Wisconsin and a partnership with Mayo Clinic. Gragert said the building is “one of the most expensive projects in Eau Claire history.”

Despite the cost, the city council is fully onboard.

“It will have a big impact for residents to get a good education here,” Gragert said. “It attracts more students and faculty over time, and it attracts industries to Eau Claire.”

Carney said the new building is needed to replace Phillips Hall, which can’t keep up with modern demands.

“Our current science building was built assuming a student body of about one-third of what it is now,” Carney said. “On top of that, when it was built there were fewer students who wanted to pursue a STEM career than there is now.”

Carney said the new building is designed with a greater emphasis on space for research and collaborative learning, which was restricted by Phillips Hall.

“We’re elevating the research, the infrastructure and the equipment that’s necessary for UW-Eau Claire to remain a leader in science education and undergraduate research,” Carney said.

There are a few more steps the plans need to go through before construction can begin.

The construction plans need to be approved by the Wisconsin Building Commission. Carney said the university hopes to get the green light before the end of December 2023. Then they will start the bidding process for hiring a construction contracting firm to take on the project. 

Carney said construction is expected to begin in the summer of 2024, and be completed in 2027.

“It’s been a huge effort across campus, so to get to this point where you can see the end of the tunnel, it will be very satisfying,” Carney said.

Once the new Science and Health Sciences building is complete, Phillips Hall will be torn down. The UW-Eau Claire 2010-2030 Campus Master Plan indicates it will be converted into parking and green space in the short term.

The project marks a change on campus, which Carney, a UW-Eau Claire alumnus and a professor of chemistry, said is both exciting and bittersweet.

“I will shed a tear when Phillips comes down,” Carney said. “I was a student there and I spent a big part of my career teaching in that building. There are a lot of fond memories, but the tear won’t last very long knowing what the new building will be.”

Mohr can be reached at [email protected].

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