After a decade of waiting, planning meetings and four open forums, the initial design and plans for the new Falcon Center have been proposed. UW-River Falls Athletic Director Roger Ternes said the center will have a “wow” factor and will be the envy of the Midwest.
The plan includes renovations to Hunt Arena, a brand-new gymnasium named after Falcon basketball legend Don Page, new athletic offices for coaches, health and human performance classrooms, and improved facilities for recreation and sporting activities, according to the Falcon Center project’s website (uwrf.edu/falconcenter). The building includes a human performance laboratory, dance studio, auxiliary gym, locker rooms, training rooms and other supporting spaces. The project also remodels approximately 14,670 square feet of space in the existing Hunt/Knowles complex to tie into and support the new addition.
Ternes added that some of the highlights that came out of the open forums include having the climbing wall to be “beacon of the fitness center” as you enter the building, and maybe even making a full-service lunch area to accommodate for students in that area and to compensate for the overcrowding in the University Center during the noon-hour.
One of the challenges will be the renovation to Hunt Arena, which may overlap with hockey season. Ternes said the plans are for the hockey teams to still be able to play at Hunt during construction, but if plans take longer than expected, they may have to temporarily move. However, he said if the plans take longer, it is because more upgrades are being made, and thus the arena will benefit in the long run.
Campus planner Dale Braun agreed and said that the construction can be like any other construction project, but that the buildings can still be accessible.
“Our design team has been looking at how the project can be phased. We have told the designers that the buildings need to remain open during construction, and that is being taken into consideration as they design the project. There may be some restricted parking at times, some spaces may be closed at times, but in general, Hunt and Knowles should operate pretty much normally,” Braun said.
The main challenge will be “interfacing” the existing buildings into the new construction, Braun added, and in particular, their mechanical systems like heating, lighting and plumbing. That will require periodic shutdowns of those systems. Another challenge will be the impact on users of the facility. “While spaces will remain open, occupants will have to contend with some noise, dust, varying room temperatures and some inconvenience,” Braun said.
However, he said that the benefit of having athletics, health and human performance, and recreation and sport facilities all in one centralized location will be a huge benefit to the community.
All three involved departments: athletics, health and human performance, and recreation and sport facilities have collaborated on the project.
“I am thoroughly impressed with how the three departments worked together on this multi-purpose project,” Ternes said. “We are getting a lot of facility for our money.”
The project is estimated to cost $63.5 million, but $47.5 million of that comes from the state of Wisconsin. During a time when budgets cuts seem rampant, Ternes said that if the money were not used at UWRF, it would just be sent to Oshkosh or Stevens Point, for example.
“The time for upgrades is well past-due. We are woefully behind everyone in the UW System, so why not us?” Ternes said.
“We’re not going to apologize for having the nicest facilities.” The other funding for the project comes from student fees and the UWRF Foundation. On April 25, 2000, Student Senate approved a resolution to increase segregated fees to fund the program revenue contribution to this project. That increase was based on a program revenue contribution of $3,846,150 to the then estimated total project budget of $25,641,000.
In spring 2005, the UWRF Foundation agreed to provide up to $2,056,000 of gifts toward this project.
Then, in March 2008, the Senate approved an additional increase of the segregated fee to an amount not to exceed $6,173,000. This equates to an annual segregated fee impact of $72.15 per student for this project, according to the project request proposal for the 2011-2013 biennium budget.
The project got the go-ahead through advanced enumeration for the 2011-2013 biennium budget. The proposed Health and Human Performance (HHP) Building project (now the Falcon Center project) was also included in the University’s 2001-03, 2003-05, 2005-07, 2007-2009, and 2009-2011 biennial capital budget requests.
According to the Falcon Center website, “In 1994, a comprehensive analysis of existing facility conditions was conducted in anticipation of a major capital renewal project in the Karges Center, then 35-years-old. The analysis determined that both quality and quantity of the main instructional and indoor athletic facilities were substandard. To address these deficiencies, a concerted planning effort occurred in 1999 involving UWRF, UW System Administration, and the Division of State Facilities staff.”
As a result, a solution was developed to construct a replacement facility, which today has become the Falcon Center.
Upon completion of the new facility, the Karges Physical Education Center and the Emogene Nelson Building (now occupied by HHP) will be demolished. Demolition of those buildings will eliminate operating costs and maintenance needs in those facilities, according to the website.
According to the Falcon Center website, the HHP program, which was recently cited by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction as an exemplary health education model, is the only National Association of Sport and Physical Education accredited K-12 teacher certification program in the State of Wisconsin and one of only a few in the Midwest. In 2012 there were over 250 HHP majors and over 300 minors and over 3,000 students taking a physical education class. The Falcon athletic website estimates that over 400 student-athletes participate in a varsity sport at UWRF.