The Wisconsin Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee on Tuesday advanced funding for a $35 million renovation project at UW-Stout's South Hall residence hall. The panel also gave preliminary approval to building projects at UW-Eau Claire and UW-River Falls.  

Proposed construction projects at three regional UW System campuses made the cut and were included in the capital budget passed Tuesday night by the state Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee.

West-central Wisconsin building projects that made it through that crucial step in the state budget process included:

• $109 million for the first phase of a science and health sciences building at UW-Eau Claire to replace the campus’s aging Phillips Science Hall, plus $1 million for advance planning of the project’s second phase.

• $35 million to renovate South Hall residence hall at UW-Stout in Menomonie.

• $2 million to fund partial design of the Science and Technology Innovation Center at UW-River Falls.

Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ proposed budget called for $1.1 billion in funding for UW System building projects. The Republican-controlled budget committee on Tuesday scaled that back to about $1 billion. They earmarked $31.7 million for classroom renovations, down from the $38 million Evers proposed, but retained his plans to spend $125 million on Camp Randall Stadium and Kohl Center upgrades.

The only UW projects that received no money under the Republican plan were plans to finish work on a new science hall and upgrade dorms at UW-La Crosse.

Chancellors from the three regional UW campuses expressed their gratitude for the budget committee’s stamp of approval in statements.

“We are grateful for the support shown for this project by the Joint Committee on Finance,” said UW-Eau Claire Chancellor James Schmidt. “I also am extremely thankful to our bipartisan delegation of local legislators, Mayo Clinic Health System, our area business community and our engaged alumni, all of whom see the important impact the new Science and Health Sciences Building will have on northwest Wisconsin and have helped to garner statewide support for the project.”

The project carries a total price tag of $256 million.

UW-Stout Chancellor Bob Meyer noted that little has been done to improve South Hall since it was the first residence hall he stayed in when he first arrived at the university in the 1970s. The proposed renovation includes upgrading the infrastructure, adding expanded restrooms and an elevator and stairs, and creating an accessible entrance, along with window and door improvements and other renovations to make the building compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“I want to sincerely thank our local legislative delegation and Gov. Evers for making this renovation a priority, and I look forward to working with all our legislators to ensure the project receives full legislative support,” Meyer said.

This budgeted amount for the UW-River Falls project would pay for design to the 35% level, a benchmark that will enable university officials to clarify the actual cost of construction and develop a complementary fundraising plan to engage private donors. Those steps would allow the university to seek construction funds for the project in the 2021-23 state budget.

“We appreciate the expression of confidence in UW-River Falls on the part of the state Legislature that these investments represent,” UW-River Falls Chancellor Dean Van Galen said, specifically thanking JFC member and state Rep. Shannon Zimmerman, R-River Falls, for his advocacy. “We look forward to continuing to work with our legislators and the executive branch as the biennial budget makes its way forward in the state process.”

The proposed SciTech project would house the departments of biology, chemistry, physics, and psychology/neuroscience, providing modern laboratory spaces for instruction and undergraduate research to meet industry demands in STEM fields.

Overall, Evers’ budget called for spending $2.5 billion on construction projects around the state, but Republican committee members voted instead Tuesday to spend about $1.9 billion.

The next step in the state budget process is passage of matching versions of the budget by the Assembly and Senate, after which a bill will be sent to Evers for possible approval or vetoes.