For many making their first visit to UW-Eau Claire, their first impression has long been a small kiosk on Roosevelt Avenue and getting a map for where to go next.
A construction project scheduled to begin this spring envisions a grander, more welcoming introduction to the university with a building that will also house offices for admissions, the university’s foundation and its alumni association.
“We want to put our best foot forward for student recruitment and retention, but also for alumni and donors,” said Kimera Way, executive director of the UW-Eau Claire Foundation.
Just west of the current kiosk, a two-story, 16,300-square-foot welcome center is planned for a lawn where three university-owned homes previously stood.
The building’s first floor will include a large reception area, presentation and event space, private offices where admissions staff can meet with future students and a departure point for campus tours. Upstairs will be offices for the Alumni Association and UW-Eau Claire Foundation, plus conference rooms and a multipurpose room overlooking the Campus Mall.
The old visitor center kiosk will be razed, allowing its 18-stall parking lot to grow by about four stalls and serve the new welcome center.
“This is going to be much more convenient for those who will visit as prospective students,” said Mike Rindo, UW-Eau Claire’s assistant chancellor for facilities and university relations.
Currently those who are new to campus have to make their way to Schofield Hall — in the heart of campus — and find the admissions office.
Donors and alumni, who may not visit that often, also face a similar journey.
“You kind of have to work to find us,” Way said.
With the new welcome center, there will be no increase in university staff or visitors to campus, Rindo said, simply moving them from one building to the new one.
And the offices they leave in Schofield Hall won’t be vacant for long, he said, as their are employees elsewhere on campus in need of office space.
“We’ve had a shortage of office space for many years on campus,” Rindo said.
The $5.5 million welcome center project is a first for the university — its first building funded entirely by donations.
“This is entirely gift-funded,” Rindo said.
Way said there has been a “quiet campaign” that sought contributions from alumni and business entities.
The university’s 2010-30 master plan originally envisioned the welcome center’s site as home to a future dormitory for about 100 students. But neighborhood opposition prompted the university to rethink its plans.
Kevin Rosenberg, president of the 3rd Ward Neighborhood Association, was part of the effort to quash a dorm from going there. He praised Chancellor James Schmidt for amending the campus master plan and feels the welcome center will be a much better fit for that spot.
“I’m ecstatic about it,” Rosenberg said. “I think the new building is a win for the university, not just the neighborhood.”
The welcome center will be a topic at the association’s April 10 meeting to discuss and offer a recommendation to the City Council.
Welcome center construction is slated to start in June and the project is expected to be done in summer 2020. But first, plans for the project face a series of local approvals.
The first is a recommendation from Eau Claire’s Waterways and Parks Commission, which meets at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the city’s Central Maintenance Facility, 910 Forest St. That group will weigh in on the project due to the site’s proximity to Little Niagara Creek.
An environmental impact assessment was done on the building plans and that will be subject to a public meeting at 5 p.m. on April 4 in Room 1924 of Centennial Hall, 1698 Park Ave., on the university campus.
The sites of the former homes, which the university tore down in 2017 to prepare the land for reuse, requires rezoning from residential to public use. Eau Claire’s Plan Commission will hold a hearing and vote on April 1, followed by an April 8 City Council hearing and deciding vote on April 9.
The welcome center won’t be the only construction work this summer on the UW-Eau Claire campus.
• Two other donation-funded projects planned are intended to beautify campus and guide visitors into UW-Eau Claire. A large water feature will be built in front of Schofield Hall. A gateway — columns and an archway with the university’s name — will be added where Garfield Avenue enters campus.
• The redesign of Garfield Avenue through campus into a pedestrian mall with outdoor classrooms and gathering areas was substantially completed in October, but Rindo said some finishing work will happen this summer.
• On upper campus, construction of a new suite-style dormitory is scheduled to wrap up this summer as well as thorough renovations to the Karlgaard Towers North dormitory — both in time for students arriving in fall.
• Simpson Field — the university’s practice football field that also sees other uses — will go from natural grass to artificial turf this summer. In addition to football, the field also is used for intramural sports, soccer, lacrosse and as a marching band practice field during summer camps. The track and field area bordering the field also will undergo work that will allow the university to host track meets, which is currently can’t do. Improvements to those athletic facilities are also donor-funded, Rindo noted.