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Falcon Center slowly becomes reality

March 14, 2014

Take a sigh of relief, UW-River Falls faculty members and students, the Falcon Center for Health, Education and Wellness’ groundbreaking ceremony will finally take place on May 2 after 24 long years of planning, proposals and fundraising.

“The groundbreaking will be a nice, significant, ceremonial day,” said Michael Stifter, executive director of Facilities Planning and Management. “It’s a celebration of what’s to come.”

That initial relief may not last long, however, as construction is set to begin on July 14, and will likely last until the grand opening, currently slated for January 2017.

Stifter said that January 2017 is still a realistic date of completion, but if construction is delayed by inclement weather the grand opening could realistically be pushed to spring of 2018.

The Falcon Center, previously named the Health, Human Performance and Recreation Center, was the topic of discussion at Stifter’s very first departmental staff meeting when he joined UWRF.

That meeting took place in the summer of 1999.

“They said ‘we are this close,’” Stifter said. “Fast forward 15 years and we’re still talking about the project. But now it’s not a matter of if it will happen, it’s a matter of when.”

While many current students will not be around to enjoy the Falcon Center when it is eventually completed down to the last brick and paint stroke, it may be comforting to know that a weight will be lifted off the shoulders of an incalculable number of UWRF faculty members who have had a hand in the process over the past 24 years.

Essentially, the Falcon Center will replace the Karges Center, which houses the Health and Human Performance (HHP) department, a gym, classrooms and support facilities. Also being replaced is the Emogene A. Nelson Center, which houses the strength and conditioning center, a classroom and a fitness studio.

“The new Falcon Center is going to have an incredible impact on students majoring in Health and Human Performance,” said Faye Perkins, UWRF softball head coach and HHP professor. “Our current facilities are outdated, particularly the Human Performance Lab, which is currently located in Rodli Commons because there wasn’t space for it anywhere else.”

The Falcon Center will include a large gym named after former UWRF basketball, tennis, baseball and football coach Don Page. Page also served as athletic director for 12 years, and was inducted into the 1992 UWRF Athletics Hall of Fame. Page, who is widely considered the most influential figure in UWRF athletics history, died in 2010 at the age of 83.

“(Page) was around daily,” Stifter said. “He was a good humanitarian, and a family man who worked hard; athletics were a passion.”

W.H. Hunt Arena also will be getting a face-lift with new bleacher seating, updated concessions and remodeled offices. Next door, the Knowles Center will have its locker and office area remodeled. An approximate 320 parking spots will be added for extra motor vehicle access.

“The Falcon Center will also provide exceptional recreational facilities for all faculty, staff, students and community members,” Perkins said. “The fitness studios, climbing wall, recreational space and wellness center will provide opportunities for everyone to be physically active.”

The targeted date of completion is October 2016, three months prior to the projected grand opening. The Falcon Center’s architect and engineer team is led by Ayres Associates, based in Eau Claire, Wis., in association with Hastings & Chivetta, a design firm from St. Louis, Mo.

“Ayres gives the project a Wisconsin presence,” Stifter said. “Both are excellent teams, and great to work with. They’re industry experts and have a good connection with the campus.”

The existing Hunt/Knowles complex is to tie into and support the new addition, which will also include a new auxiliary gym, fitness center, multi-purpose activity studios, an exercise physiology lab and spectator seating in the Knowles Center.

“Having one complex—one facility—is really key,” Stifter said. “It saves a lot of time. Bottom line: it’s going to be a beautiful facility.”

While not set in stone, the plan is to relocate the softball and soccer fields closer to Ramer Field. All the while, new stadium seating is planned for Ramer Field, as indicated by the giant sign hanging on the current bleachers at the football field.

“On the athletic side, the new facilities will provide a true college experience for student-athletes and spectators,” Perkins said.

The Karges Center, constructed in 1959, and the Nelson Center, constructed in 1963, are functionally obsolete and in poor overall condition, according to the Falcon Center’s website. The two buildings will be demolished in the summer of 2017.

What students may not realize is that one of the perks at the Falcon Center will be the student dining.

“The food service element will be a pleasant surprise,” Stifter said. “It will be a nice advantage for those who rely on the facility.”

There is potential that some features and finishes may get cut, but Stifter is confident they can stay close to the budget. The $1.7 million campus-wide budget cut will not affect the Falcon Center.

The Wisconsin Board of Regents and the State Building Commission estimate the project to cost approximately $62.5 million. The construction of the facilities will cost more than $50 million. The extra $12.5 million will be for “soft costs,” such as design, supervision, unforeseen changes and equipment.

The Falcon Center is an idea that dates back to 1990, when it was first verbally discussed. A thorough analysis in 1994 determined that the main indoor athletic facilities were deficient, according to the Falcon Center’s website. In 1999 a concentrated planning effort for a replacement facility occurred and metaphorically ignited the flame.

Approximately $10.2 million of the funding has or will come from student fees, which averages to be an approximate annual fee of $72 per student. More than $2 million is expected to come from the UWRF Foundation, headed by Chris Mueller, the Foundation’s president. The Foundation is very close to hitting their targeted goal. The rest of the funding has come from the state of Wisconsin, which is roughly $50.4 million.

Stifter indicated that the Falcon Center is an ongoing process. An important scheduling meeting was set for Thursday, March 13, to iron out the details going forth, so Stifter advised everyone to “stay tuned.”