CHIPPEWA FALLS — A new, permanent light display on the Chippewa Falls Hydro Dam will be turned on tonight, lighting the building’s north side every evening with a variety of colors.
Bob Schultz, Xcel Energy community service manager, said the utility is excited about the new LED light display, which will face the new Chippewa Riverfront park.
“This will be a legacy for a long time,” Schultz said. “Every time you go through downtown, you’ll see these beautiful lights. It’s our way of participating in the downtown Chippewa Falls redevelopment.”
There are 12 newly mounted lights on the roof of the building, each capable of providing multiple-color displays. The colors will change throughout the year to match the season, or to highlight events in the city.
Jackie Boos, tourism director with the Chippewa Falls Area Chamber of Commerce, said she got to see a sneak peek of the lights and she was impressed.
“It’s vibrant. It’s really going to stand out,” Boos said. “It’s such a large beautiful space (in the park), and it’s just going to add to that ambiance. We’re super-excited.”
Chippewa Falls mayor Greg Hoffman will be among the speakers at the ceremony tonight, and he’s eager for the public to see the lights.
“I’m very appreciative of everything they’ve done,” Hoffman said. “It adds another dimension to Riverfront Park. I like colors like that; this will add to the fun of the park.”
Schultz wouldn’t divulge the cost of the lights, but said the project came in less than they had anticipated. Xcel also needed permission to make the alterations.
“This is an historic building. Anything we do to that building, we have to get permission for it,” he explained.
A letter from the Chamber of Commerce helped get the approval for the alterations, he added.
Gopher Stage Lighting from the Twin Cities was hired as a lighting design consultant to create the display, he said.
The lights have been ready to go, but Schultz said they wanted to wait for a special event to turn them on. Today is the downtown’s “Paint the Town Red” event, and the lights will go on to conclude the day.
“You’ll see this building lit up every night,” Schultz said. “They’ll come on at sundown, and they’ll go off at midnight.”
Schultz said they have a variety of special light displays planned. For instance, when the Green Bay Packers have a tailgate party here in April, the colors will be green and gold. Boos said the lights will be green in November to honor Girl Scout Troop 3055. The lights will be blue this summer for the blues festival.
Chippewa Riverfront park is currently under construction on the north shore of the Chippewa River. It features walking paths, benches, and an amphitheater, and will eventually have some water fixtures. The city estimates that the entire project will cost about $10 million. The city purchased old buildings in that corridor and razed them to make room for the park.
The new light display comes on the heels of Xcel improving the aging NSP sign, which was re-lit in December 2016 after not being turned on for decades. It was originally installed in 1968, and has now been modified with LED lights.
No one is exactly sure when the neon lights burned out. When the roof of the hydro plant was replaced in 2013, workers also examined the sign and determined it was in reasonably good order, and the utility began making plans to restore it.
The utility is also planning to install kiosks along the walking trail at the park with historical information about the plant. Hoffman said they also supplied some unique benches that have LED lighting.
The Chippewa Falls hydro plant was originally built in 1928 at the site of an old lumber mill. It was identified at that time with a sign on top that was lit with the full hydro and company name: Chippewa Falls Hydro Plant-Northern States Power Company. It was then downsized to just NSP in 1968, where it remained lit for several decades.
CHIPPEWA FALLS — Former Chippewa County Board chairman Larry Willkom has died, just weeks after he resigned from the board after 36 years of service.
Willkom, 77, of the town of Lafayette served as county board chairman from 2010 to 2012. He died Feb. 20. Visitation will be 4 to 7 p.m. March 7 at Pederson-Volker Funeral Chapel, with funeral services at 11 a.m. March 8 at Holy Ghost Catholic Church in Chippewa Falls.
Evelyn Maloney of Chippewa Falls served alongside Willkom on the board for several years, and she remembers Willkom as someone who was devoted to his work.
“He was a gentleman,” Maloney said. “I enjoyed working with him. We didn’t always agree, but we always got along. He was a very conscientious person — he served the way he wanted to.”
Marilyn Holte of Chippewa Falls said she joined the board the same year as Willkom, and they served together for 30 years before she retired.
“He had strong convictions about many things, but he was a listener,” Holte said. “We didn’t vote the same on many issues, but there was respect. We served on a lot of committees together, and we learned from each other.”
Willkom represented District 9 on the board, covering the town of Hallie and most of the town of Lafayette. Colleagues recalled he would frequently vote against spending measures, from the annual budget to a measure that created the $10 wheel tax.
Along with serving on the county board, he also served on the Chippewa Valley Technical College Board, the Lafayette town board, and the Chippewa Falls School Board.
Willkom was born in Boyd in 1941, graduated from McDonell High School in 1959, and he earned his bachelor’s degree in social work from UW-Eau Claire. He worked for the Chippewa County Human Services Department. He retired in 1998.
Over his career on the board, Willkom was a frequent visitor to the courthouse, interacting with staff and learning about upcoming issues.
His seat on the county board hasn’t been filled yet; the board is slated to review candidates and possibly approve a finalist at its meeting next month. That candidate would serve out the final 13 months of Willkom’s term, through April 2020.