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New residence hall on schedule for August opening

Construction on the new $35 million, six-level dorm on UW-Eau Claire’s upper campus is moving forward on schedule and within budget, says Quincy Chapman, director of housing and residence life.

The building features 432 beds throughout the 108 units, he said. The building will open Aug. 1, giving the university much-needed additional housing, he said.

“It was really significant. We’ve experienced a four-decade housing shortage,” Chapman said. “We’ve been in hotels. This helps us get on our way, where we don’t think we’ll need to use them.”

The new building is slated to be filled to capacity when it opens, as students have already signed up to be the first residents.

“It became quickly one of our popular buildings,” Chapman said. “We’re already full for next year.”

UW-Eau Claire Chancellor James Schmidt called the new housing a “win-win-win” because it will benefit the students, the university and the city by freeing up other housing.

“Most people in the community know we’ve had a housing shortage going back to the 1970s,” Schmidt said.

Schmidt noted the building was approved by the Legislature in 2013.

“There are no taxpayer dollars involved,” Schmidt added. “This is entirely paid for through student housing fees.”

In recent weeks, the entire six-floor building’s exterior has come together, standing out on campus.

“The nice thing about new construction is there tends to not be many surprises,” he said.

Warmer weather also has aided in moving the project along, he added.

“They were able to do more work on the exterior, because the weather has been good,” Chapman said. “That’s exciting, especially for the students who have put up with the construction, to see the exterior go up.”

Chapman describes them as suites because they don’t have kitchens but are otherwise apartments. The building will have new features that students are demanding, he said.

“The significant features are wireless and wired internet,” he said. “It’s really robust internet, much faster than they can buy off campus.”

There is a lounge and kitchen on each floor, and air conditioning throughout.

“Every wing has a study lounge,” he said. “Rather than classic computer labs, we’ve sprinkled large flat-screens throughout the building.”

Students will be able to connect their laptops to those screens, he explained.

The main floor also features a fitness center, a game room and a laundry room.

The big thing the building is missing is a name, as nothing has been selected at this time. For now, it is just called “new suite-style hall,” he said.

Schmidt said he’s pleased with all the features available in the dorm hall.

“We’ve listened carefully to the students of what they are looking for,” Schmidt said.

The dorm hall is near the two 10-story tower buildings, which also have undergone significant renovations. The work includes upgrading the heating and ventilation systems, sprinkling, plumbing, elevators and exterior improvements.

South tower is now open; North tower is closed and also will be set to open Aug. 1. Each tower provides housing for about 650 students. That renovation was expected to cost $33 million.

Contact: chris.vetter@ecpc.com


Washington
AP
Speaker again, Pelosi sees 'new dawn' for 116th Congress

WASHINGTON — Cheering Democrats returned Nancy Pelosi to the House speaker’s post Thursday as the 116th Congress ushered in a historically diverse freshman class eager to confront President Donald Trump in a new era of divided government.

Pelosi, elected speaker 220-192, took the gavel saying U.S. voters “demanded a new dawn” in the November election that swept the Democrats to a House majority and are looking to “the beauty of our Constitution” to provide checks and balances on power. She faced 15 dissenting votes from fellow Democrats.

For a few hours, the promise of a new era was the order of the day. The new speaker invited scores of lawmakers’ kids to join her on the dais as she was sworn in, calling the House to order “on behalf of all of America’s children.”

Even Trump congratulated her during a rare appearance at the White House briefing room, saying her election by House colleagues was “a tremendous, tremendous achievement.” The president has tangled often with Pelosi and is sure to do so again with Democrats controlling the House, but he said, “I think it’ll be a little bit different than a lot of people are thinking.”

As night fell, the House quickly got to work on the partial government shutdown, which was winding up Day 13 with Trump demanding billions in Mexican border wall funding to bring it to an end. Before midnight on Congress’ first day, Democrats planned to approve legislation to reopen the government — but without the $5.6 billion in wall money, which means it has no chance in the Republican Senate.

The new Congress is like none other. There are more women than ever before, and a new generation of Muslims, Latinos, Native Americans and African-Americans is creating a House more aligned with the population of the United States. However, the Republican side in the House is still made up mostly of white men, and in the Senate Republicans bolstered their ranks in the majority.

In a nod to the moment, Pelosi, the first female speaker who reclaimed the post she lost to the GOP in 2011, broadly pledged to make Congress work for all Americans — addressing kitchen table issues at a time of deep economic churn — even as her party readies to challenge Trump with investigations and subpoena powers that threaten the White House agenda.

Pelosi promised to “restore integrity to government” and outlined an agenda “to lower health costs and prescription drug prices and protect people with pre-existing medical conditions; to increase paychecks by rebuilding America with green and modern infrastructure from sea to shining sea.”

The day unfolded as one of both celebration and impatience. Newly elected lawmakers arrived, often with friends and families in tow, to take the oath of office and pose for ceremonial photos. Then they swiftly turned to the shutdown.

Vice President Mike Pence swore in newly elected senators, but Senate Republicans under Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had no plans to consider the House bills unless Trump agreed to sign them into law. That ensured the shutdown would continue, clouding the first days of the new session.

McConnell said that Republicans have shown the Senate is “fertile soil for big, bipartisan accomplishments,” but that the question is whether House Democrats will engage in “good governance or political performance art.”

It’s a time of stark national political division that some analysts say is on par with the Civil War era. Battle lines are drawn not just between Democrats and Republicans but within the parties themselves, splintered by their left and right flanks.

Pelosi defied history in returning to the speaker’s office after eight years in the minority, overcoming internal opposition from Democrats demanding a new generation of leaders. She will be the first to regain the gavel since Sam Rayburn of Texas in 1955.

Putting Pelosi’s name forward for nomination, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York, the incoming Democratic caucus chair, recounted her previous accomplishments — passing the Affordable Care Act, helping the country out of the Great Recession — as preludes to her next ones. He called her leadership “unparalleled in modern American history.”

One Democrat, Rep. Brenda Lawrence of Michigan, cast her vote for Pelosi “on the shoulders of women who marched 100 years ago” for women’s suffrage.

Newly elected Rep. Lucy McBath of Georgia, an anti-gun violence advocate, dedicated hers to her slain teenage son, Jordan Davis.

As speaker, Pelosi will face challenges from the party’s robust wing of liberal newcomers, including 29-year-old New Yorker Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who has risen to such prominence she is already known around the Capitol — and on her prolific social media accounts — by the nickname “AOC.” California Rep. Brad Sherman introduced articles of impeachment against Trump, though for now the measures are largely symbolic.

Republicans face their own internal battles as they decide how closely to tie their political fortunes to Trump. House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy’s name was put into nomination for speaker by his party’s caucus chair, Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the daughter of the former vice president. He faced six “no” votes from his now-shrunken GOP minority.

As McCarthy passed the gavel to Pelosi he said voters wonder if Congress is “still capable” of solving problems, and said this period of divided government is “no excuse for gridlock.”

One office remains disputed as the House refused to seat Republican Mark Harris of North Carolina amid an investigation by state election officials of irregularities in absentee ballots from the November election.

Many GOP senators are up for re-election in 2020 in states where voters have mixed views of Trump’s performance in the White House.

Trump, whose own bid for 2020 already is underway, faces potential challenges from the ranks of Senate Democrats under Chuck Schumer.

The halls of the Capitol were bustling with arrivals, children in the arms of many new lawmakers. Visitor galleries included crooner Tony Bennett and rock legend Mickey Hart, both guests of Pelosi. Incoming White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, a former congressman, sat with Republican leaders.

Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo., opened the House prayer asking at “a time fraught with tribalism at home and turbulence abroad” that lawmakers “become the architects of a kindlier nation.”

Overnight, Democratic Rep-elect Ilhan Omar of Minnesota tweeted a picture with her family at the airport. The House rules were being changed to allow Omar, who is Muslim, to wear a head scarf on the chamber floor. She wrote, “23 years ago, from a refugee camp in Kenya, my father and I arrived at an airport in Washington DC. Today, we return to that same airport on the eve of my swearing in as the first Somali-American in Congress.”

———

Associated Press writers Jill Colvin, Matthew Daly, Alan Fram, Kevin Freking, Mary Clare Jalonick, Laurie Kellman and Zeke J. Miller contributed to this report.


International
AP
China lunar probe sheds light on the 'dark' side of the moon

BEIJING — China’s burgeoning space program achieved a lunar milestone on Thursday: landing a probe on the mysterious and misnamed “dark” side of the moon.

Exploring the cosmos from that far side of the moon, which people can’t see from Earth, could eventually help scientists learn more about the early days of the solar system and maybe even the birth of the universe’s first stars.

Three nations — the United States, the former Soviet Union and more recently China — all have sent spacecraft to the side of the moon that faces Earth, but this landing is the first on the far side. That side has been observed many times from lunar orbit, but never up close.

The China National Space Administration said the 10:26 a.m. touchdown of the Chang’e 4 craft has “opened up a new chapter in human lunar exploration.”

A photo taken at 11:40 a.m. and sent back by Chang’e 4 shows a small crater and a barren surface that appears to be illuminated by a light from the lunar explorer. Its name comes from that of a Chinese goddess who, according to legend, has lived on the moon for millennia.

One challenge of sending a probe to the moon’s far side is communicating with it from Earth, so China launched a relay satellite in May to enable Chang’e 4 to send back information.

The mission highlights China’s growing ambitions to rival the U.S., Russia and Europe in space, and more broadly, to cement its position as a regional and global power.

“The space dream is part of the dream to make China stronger,” President Xi Jinping said after becoming the country’s leader in 2013.

Chinese media and officials hailed the Dec. 8 launch of Chang’e 4 as one of the nation’s major achievements in 2018.

The public was kept in suspense about the landing itself for more than an hour after it occurred, with state broadcaster CCTV announcing it at the top of the noon news. By that time, speculation already had begun spreading on social media in China and overseas.

“On the whole, China’s space technology still lags behind the West, but with the landing on the far side of the moon, we have raced to the front,” said Hou Xiyun, a professor at Nanjing University’s school of astronomy and space science.

He added that China has Mars, Jupiter and asteroids in its sights: “There’s no doubt that our nation will go farther and farther.”

The landing was “a big deal” because it used an engineering technique of the spacecraft itself choosing a safe place to touch down in treacherous terrain, something called autonomous hazard avoidance, said Purdue University lunar and planetary scientist Jay Melosh.

He recalled mentioning the idea of such a technique for an unfunded NASA lunar mission about eight years ago, only to be told it wasn’t doable at the time.

“The moon is more challenging to land on than Mars,” Melosh said. “On Mars, you can pick out smooth areas.”

In 2013, the predecessor spacecraft Chang’e 3 made the first moon landing since the former Soviet Union’s Luna 24 in 1976. The United States is the only country to successfully send astronauts to the moon — 2019 will mark the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing — although China is considering a crewed mission too.

For now, it plans to send a Chang’e 5 probe to the moon next year and have it return to Earth with samples — also not done since the Soviet mission in 1976.

The moon’s far side is sometimes called the “dark side” in popular culture because it is always unseen from Earth and is relatively unknown, not because it lacks sunlight.

Chang’e 4, a combined lander and rover, will make astronomical observations and probe the composition of the soil.

The spacecraft landed in the South Pole-Aitken basin, the oldest known impact zone. Scientists want to know how old — somewhere between 3.9 billion and 4.4 billion years old — to better understand a period in the solar system’s history called the late heavy bombardment. That’s when space rocks were careening off each other and crashing into moons and planets, including Earth. Knowing the age and chemical composition of this crash zone would help understand Earth’s ancient history better, said Purdue’s Melosh.

Chang’e 4 could also contribute to radio astronomy.

“The far side of the moon is a rare, quiet place that is free from interference from radio signals from Earth,” mission spokesman Yu Guobin said, according to the official Xinhua News Agency. “This probe can fill the gap of low-frequency observation in radio astronomy and will provide important information for studying the origin of stars and nebula evolution.”

Harvard astronomer Avi Loeb said that in the future, it may be possible to see much farther — and thus earlier — into the universe from the far side because the moon itself will block interfering radio signals from Earth.

From the far side, scientists may eventually be able to peer back to 50 million to 100 million years after the Big Bang, when the first stars were born — or even earlier, he said.

China conducted its first crewed space mission in 2003, following Russia and the U.S. It has put two space stations into orbit and plans to launch a Mars rover in the mid-2020s. Its space program suffered a rare setback last year with the failed launch of its Long March 5 rocket.

“Building a space power is a dream that we persistently pursue,” said Wu Weiren, the chief designer of the China Lunar Exploration Project, speaking with CCTV at the Beijing Aerospace Flight and Control Center. “And we’re gradually realizing it.”

———

Associated Press writer Yanan Wang and researcher Shanshan Wang in Beijing and Science Writer Seth Borenstein in Washington contributed to this report.


Front-page
featured
Food distributor sues Gordy's Market again, seeks $46.2 million

CHIPPEWA FALLS — Food distributor Nash Finch Co. has filed a new lawsuit against Gordy’s Market Inc., saying the local grocery chain hasn’t been repaying a loan and is once again on the verge of insolvency.

Nash Finch is seeking $46,238,151, according to the lawsuit filed in Chippewa County Court.

That sum comes from:

• $43,325,002 in a “rebate-able incentive.”

• $1 million in a principal note that Nash Finch loaned to GMI in November 2017.

• $1,913,149 for accounts receivable.

William Jacobs, Nash Finch vice president of treasury and corporate development, submitted an affidavit along with the lawsuit, writing that GMI is in default under the terms of the “customer supply agreement” from November 2017.

“GMI is unable to pay plaintiff timely since late August 2018,” Jacobs wrote. “GMI’s delinquent balance with plaintiff has grown considerably in the last few weeks.”

A review of Gordy’s Market Inc.’s finances indicate the company “has no excess cash to get caught up on its delinquent balance,” Jacobs wrote.

The lawsuit states that Gordy’s Market Inc. promised to pay the principal sum of $1 million, together with interest on the principal balance. As collateral, GMI included “equipment, fixtures, inventory, investment property” and included liquor, wine and beer licenses, the lawsuit states. Gordy’s Market assumed leases of six stores from Nash Finch, with collateral assigned to each of the six locations.

“As a result of these defaults, (Nash Finch) accelerated the maturity of the note so that all amounts there under were immediately due and payable as of Dec. 27, 2018,” the lawsuit states.

Nash Finch is requesting that receiver Michael Polsky once again be appointed to oversee dissolving the grocery chain.

“It would be beneficial to plaintiff and other creditors of GMI to have a supervised process by which to market and sell defendant’s assets, resolve creditor claims and make distribution to creditors,” Jacobs wrote.

The customer supply agreement states that GMI is “contracted for the purchase of inventory and services from plaintiff as its primary supplier.”

Jeff Schafer, Gordy’s Market Inc. president, pointed out that the lawsuit only refers to six of his stores and not his location on Clairemont Avenue in Eau Claire.

“I have no comment on the advice of my legal counsel,” Schafer said Thursday. “Our stores are still open for business. Our stores are full, and we’re getting all of our groceries.”

There is no future court date set; Gordy’s Market has 20 days to respond to the lawsuit. The case was originally assigned to Judge Steve Gibbs, who has recused himself. The 2017 case was handled by Judge James Isaacson.

In August 2017, Nash Finch filed an $86 million lawsuit against the grocery chain. By Dec. 7, 2017, 1,400 separate creditors filed proof of claims totaling an additional $50,753,000, and Settlers Bank filed a claim of $5 million.

By the end of the year, 20 of the 26 Gordy’s Market locations had either been sold or closed, leaving just six in the company’s portfolio: Chippewa Falls downtown, Chippewa Falls on Lake Wissota, Cornell, Ladysmith, Chetek and Barron. The Eau Claire store was later added.

Jeff Schafer, who returned to the company in March 2017 after a half-year sabbatical, is now leading the new, smaller team. Joining him are his brother, Dan Schafer, as head of finances, and Jeff’s son, Nick, as head of merchandising.

The Schafers acquired the six stores in December 2017 through an auction and working out an agreement with SpartanNash, the new corporate name of Nash Finch.

SpartanNash was the highest bidder, buying the six stores at the auction for $19.8 million. The food distributor then agreed to assign its interest in the purchase to Gordy’s Market Inc. This agreement allows the Schafers to retain ownership of the six stores and keep 340 employees on the payroll.

Some of the other 20 stores, like in Stanley, were never sold. Others, like Chippewa Falls south and Rice Lake, remain shuttered and aren’t reopening as grocery stores.

Contact: chris.vetter@ecpc.com