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Students actively participated in success of University Center

March 23, 2007

The completion and grand opening of the University Center this semester brought a sigh of relief and a feeling of excitement to many people in the UW-River Falls campus community.

Contractors and professionals labored long hours to meet the goal of a spring grand opening, but Director of Student Life Facilities Mike Stifter said without the help of students the goal would not have become a reality.

Stifter said there was no shortage of student involvement and hard work throughout the duration of the project, and they dedicated upwards of 5,000 hours of time from October 2006 to February 2007.

“The building wouldn’t have been [finished] without their help,” Stifter said.

Anyone who remembers Hagestad Hall as being the main hub of social activity on campus may be amazed as they take a step into the University Center.

The $34 million building is bursting with technology, including numerous computers with Internet access, the Kinnickinnic River Theatre, a video game room, a high-tech security system, a state of the art stage and sound system and flat screen televisions.

Stifter said the Student Services and Programs IT staff were key student players in the process of making the technology come to life.

” … all that sophistication happened because of student involvement,” he said.

Stifter said approximately 75 students contributed physical labor, doing things such as pulling wires through the building, setting up computers and installing $700,000 in AV equipment.

“This was some hands-on, real-world experience that they got,” Stifter said.

One of these people, Paul Bladl, is a recent graduate from UWRF. He is currently network administrator at FredNet Services on campus.

“As the network administrator, I was charged with ensuring all aspects of the network were setup for the building,” Bladl said, “This included extra wiring in the building as well as all of the network switches.”

Stifter said Bladl was a team leader, with many students assisting him in his duties.

“The University Center project was a great opportunity for the student techs at FredNet to gain more experience above what they normally would have been able to learn and do,” Bladl said.

Senior and FredNet employee Mike Bell is one student who worked with Bladl.

“It’s just amazing to be a part of a project of that scale,” Bell said. “Just being able to work with technology to make the building better for students is a really good job experience.”

Stifter said another student and employee of FredNet, senior Mike Hovestol, was asked to take a semester off from his education at UWRF to contribute to some essential finishing touches to the building.

Hovestol said he talked it over with his family and decided that the experience would be well worth the break from school, and in the end he felt much like Bell.

“It all came together really fast and we got everything together like we wanted to,” Hovestol said. “It’s kind of rewarding to see the different things students can use that I helped put in.”

Beyond the technological achievements, the University Center is prided as being an environmentally sustainable building, which also came with student involvement.

According to a Jan. 15 UWRF Public Affairs news release, “Several years ago Rusty Callier and Phyllis Jaworski, both ECO club members and 2001 graduates, tracked energy use, water consumption and waste generation in campus buildings for an academic project. Their project culminated in an outline of how sustainable and green design principles could be utilized in campus buildings starting with a student union.”

During preliminary planning for the University Center, students voted to put an extra $1 million into the building for sustainable development.

This includes passive solar heating through large windows, a white roof to reflect sunlight during the summer, much of the furniture is from recycled materials and, among other things, rainwater is collected from the roof and recycled for use in the building.

In an e-mail, former president of the UWRF ECO club Matthew Meyer shared his feelings about the environmental features of the building.

“The new building is a symbol of what is important a way to move our campus (and society) down a more sustainable path,” he said. “It also demonstrates our commitment to sustainability by ‘walking the walk.'”

Despite the stresses and complications that came along with opening the University Center, Stifter said students always brought with them a positive “can do” attitude.