Funding for the UW-Eau Claire’s new science and health sciences building needs to be included when legislators approve Wisconsin’s next budget.
It’s hard to see what waiting might accomplish. The first half of the funding for the building is effectively in the bank, with $109 million committed in the current budget. But the UW System bafflingly left out the remainder when it submitted its funding proposal. We’re not sure whether they think half a building suffices or the university should wait until the interest from the first part covers the remaining need.
The funding is a rare point of unity for local legislators, and for good reason. The university dodged a bullet last February when a fire in the building was contained and classes continued in the rest of the building. Reporting at the time said the 1960s-era building does not have a sprinkler system.
Folks, think about this for a minute. Science labs routinely use fire and potentially combustible materials. No modern science hall would go without fire suppression systems. It’s ridiculous that one of the universities in the state’s premier public system would lack that basic protection.
The state has the opportunity to rectify that problem. Failure to do so wouldn’t just be mind-boggling. It would border on negligence.
It’s possible that science and medicine have developed faster in the 50-plus years since the current building was built than any other disciplines. They have taken techniques that were speculation on a page from Arthur C. Clarke at the time and made them into reality. Had you told students who walked into the current hall for the first classes after construction that, within their careers, a machine would give doctors a live look into organ systems to determine how well they functioned, you’d probably have had to help them pick their jaws up off the ground.
Look at how much else has changed. Buildings can be rewired to install internet connections, but new ones are built with that in mind. The past couple decades have seen 3-D printing go from concept to reality, and the range of things built using the technique is rapidly growing. It would be far better to have a building made for those concepts and, to the degree possible, for those on the horizon.
This is not proposed construction of dubious value. It’s not being designed for something tangential to a university’s purpose. Science isn’t a major that makes your parents ask “But what are you going to do with that degree?” It’s a core subject for education, one that should be funded as such.
This goes beyond philosophical concerns, too. There are real-world consequences. You cannot attract the best instructors if they know they would be handcuffed by inferior facilities. Universities will find it exceptionally difficult to recruit the best students if the labs they had in high school outshine those you offer.
A few days ago we encouraged legislators to find common ground. This seems like it would be a good place to start. There can be no reasonable justification for leaving this unquestionably needed building’s funding half-finished.
A half-century old building simply does not meet modern requirements for science education. A structure like it without sprinklers doesn’t even meet contemporary safety guidelines. By rational standards, this should be a slam dunk.
Legislatures across the country love to talk up their belief in education and the need to fund it appropriately. Well, here’s a chance for Wisconsin’s governing body to show whether they mean it.