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Building becomes new stomping ground

February 1, 2007

As students were making the trek back to UW-River Falls on Jan. 21, preparing for the start of a new semester, the doors of the University Center were open for everyone to get their first glimpse of the building.

During the open house, students were allowed to venture throughout the building, utilize the two-story game room and some even stopped to relax on the couches in front of the big screen television on the first floor to watch the Chicago Bears defeat the New Orleans Saints and secure their place in Super Bowl XLI.

These are just some of the features the new University Center has to offer. Besides free gaming tables and arcade games, students are able to enjoy the luxuries of a cyber café, a convenience store with late-night hours and a bank open on Saturdays, all without leaving campus.

“The building definitely has more room for students to hang out, and I have definitely seen an increase in the visibility of the student body in this past week,” senior Katie Bollig said.

Last week, the grand opening ceremonies were held with many students, staff, faculty and community members on hand.

The festivities began on the evening of Jan. 22 with a candlelight walk from the old student center, now Hagestad Hall, to the new University Center. After the walk, a dedication of the Robert Sievert fireplace was held.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony took place in the lower level of the building on Jan. 23, with student and staff members speaking about the building and their hopes for the future of the University Center.

With a red ribbon adorned with UWRF emblems hanging in front of the podium, Shaun Priesgen, the chair of the University Center Committee, welcomed everyone to the new four-level structure.

“What a building. I can’t believe how big it is,” said Natalie Hagberg, chair of the Leadership Development and Programming Board, reminiscing about a tour she had taken of the building last spring, while it was still under construction.

Now that the building is completed and students are roaming every square inch, Hagberg said she is very excited for the future of the University.

“I knew this building would open many doors for this campus,” she said.

In looking toward the future, Hagberg challenged current and future students to utilize the space to the best of their abilities.

“Let’s make this our building,” she said.

Matthew Meyer, the former president of the Earth Consciousness Organization then spoke of the ways in which the building would be beneficial to the campus due to its “sustainable design features.”

Where the University Center was erected, the Ames Education Building once stood, and many architectural aspects of that historical building are evident in the new facility.

“Parts of that building are alive again,” Chancellor Don Betz said in his speech. “Ames lives on.”

A bench on the lower level outside the Falls Room was constructed using a slab of concrete from Ames, which can be seen by the words “Erected 1961” engraved along the bottom.

“This is the epicenter of our University,” Betz said. “This becomes the jewel in the crown of our 134 year-old institution.”

Betz went on to describe the values instilled in this University and his expectations for the future.

“This is our time. This is our responsibility,” he said. “And shame on us if we don’t embrace it.”

Provost Charlie Hurt expressed his gratitude toward alumni and former faculty and staff of UWRF who made the decision 10 years ago to proceed with the construction of the new building even though they knew they would never utilize the space.

“Ten years ago, students, faculty and staff cared about future students, faculty and staff …,” he said. “They were willing to tax themselves years ago.”

On Jan. 24, Bill Lydecker and his grandson, Mitchell Favor, were on hand to unveil a sculpture entitled “Singers” in honor of the late Chancellor Ann Lydecker.

A community open house was also held on Jan. 28 for members of the River Falls area to view and tour the newest addition to the campus.

The University Center houses 11 meeting rooms all equipped with the latest technology. Many groups will be able to take advantage of these spaces.

“Already people are lining up to hold their meetings in this building,” Student Senate President Joe Eggers said at the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Director of Student Life Facilities Mike Stifter said that because the majority of the funds used to build the University Center came from students, they would have the priority in holding meetings in the building. Outside users can also reserve these spaces, but for a nominal fee, and when technological equipment is utilized, the rate would increase.

Stifter said that in the next two to three weeks, a secret-shopper type program in which students and staff members will give us feedback on the building will be introduced.

“They will come in and rate us on their first impressions,” Stifter said.

These first impressions will include but are not limited to safety (salted and shoveled sidewalks), appearance (cleanliness of restroom facilities, windows, floors and outdoor walkways) and smell.

Because the new building is very modern and there is a lot of open space, it may deter those who want to study.

“There is no quiet place to sleep or do homework in between classes,” senior Michelle Maccoux said. “Everything is so open that people who don’t live on campus have to go to the library if they want a quiet place, and there they can’t eat.”

One thing that is very evident upon entering the University Center is the welcoming spirit, with flags of nations including South Korea, Russia, Kenya, China, Canada, Japan, Germany, India, Jordan, Mexico, Ukraine and Taiwan hanging from the rafters. More flags will be added in the future.

The entertainment as was held last week will not be a one-time thing. Stifter said that he hopes similar events will continue to be held somewhere in the University Center, whether it be in the Falcon’s Nest Entertainment Complex or even along the bridge on the second floor.

“The Entertainment Complex will serve as a spectacular venue to host many great events,” Bollig said. “Recycled Percussion was a great preview of many exciting things to come.”

During the first week, several different venues were utilized for entertainment purposes to get a better grasp on what works and what does not as far as sound and acoustics are concerned.

“We want the program to drive the facility,” said Stifter, referring to possible late-night events that will potentially be offered throughout the course of the buildings existence.

Stifter said that if there are events that run until 2 a.m., they will be accommodated to and someone will make sure the place is cleaned up once everyone has vacated the building.

“I feel that with the new building brings a new sense of energy and excitement to the student body,” Bollig said. “It is definitely a great update and I hope to see many great happenings as a result of this new space in the future.”

Stifter said that the inclusion of areas where students could play arcade games, video games and other such things has been well-received.

“It was a good move on our part,” he said, adding that anytime free games are available, it is bound to be successful with the majority of students.

Though there have been some glitches in the past week with the building being brand new and students being overwhelmed with all of the changes, Stifter said it was something that was expected. When the building was under construction, there was no way to gauge how everything was going to pan out once everyone was allowed access to the building.

One area of concern for students and faculty alike was the residential and retail dining facilities located on the lower floor of the University Center. Jerry Waller, director of Dining Services, was well aware that the long lines would be likely when the building opened.

“We knew it was going to be a challenge,” he said.

Waller said that with the building being new and students getting acquainted with a new environment, the first week of the semester would be the worst. Now that everyone is more familiarized with the building and the dining hours, he said the long lines will continue to lessen as the semester progresses.

“There is a natural migration away from lines,” Waller said, adding that people will change their meal times accordingly to avoid the crowds.

Because the building is new, Waller said more time is needed to fully evaluate the dining situation and decide if changes need to be made.

“It is hard to evaluate after one week [because] it will continue to evolve,” he said. “This is a learning experience for us all.”

The current status of the University Center is not necessarily set in stone. Feedback is something that Stifter said will play a role in molding the building to the ideal facility where students, staff and faculty can come together and enjoy spending time.

“We’re not really in a position to say ‘no’ to anything. We can give it a go and test the limits …,” he said. “The more we can open people’s eyes up to new possibilities, the better off we’ll be.”

Stifter said that one piece of feedback that has been received from several different people is the need for more computers in the facility, especially with the access to wireless Internet. The locations of the kiosks were chosen because of the numerous functions that one could perform in a limited area, with the convenience store, copy shop, bank, coffee shop and soon, the bookstore all in a centralized area.

“It’s meant to be a sticking point,” Stifter said. “It will provide a convenience factor.”

Due to the success of the kiosks, one possibility that has been brought forth is to provide more stations or to allow for the availability of laptops for students to check out.

Though the construction of the University Center is complete, there are still a few things left on the agenda. The University bookstore and the card office are still located within the desolate walls of Hagestad Hall. Stifter said the bookstore will be relocated to the vacant space set aside on the main floor of the University Center sometime around spring break.

In the future, Stifter said Brandy’s will undergo renovations and will eventually house Information Technology Services, Frednet and the card office.