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Designers anticipate that the outside of the Falcon Center will look much like this concept drawing. <i>Renderings courtesy of UW River Falls</i>

Design begins on long-awaited UWRF complex

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Nearly 20 years after a study found the facilities substandard, UW-River Falls gained the traction it needs to starts design on a new Falcon Center -- known until recently as the Health and Human Performance (HHP) project. Planning efforts for a new facility began in 1999.

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A university website established for the project and Campus Planner Dale Braun confirm that the project concepts are approved.

For about the next year, engineers and architects will work to produce inches-thick construction plan sheets and specifications the size of a few phone books.

Braun said this period is when details get specific -- from structural elements like door, window and wall sizes to the HVAC components, floor finishes and building hardware.

Braun says that crews will break ground in April next year and finish construction in January 2017.

So what is the Falcon Center?

It was known as the HHP center, but UWRF Chancellor Dean Van Galen didn't think the name covered everything the new center will mean for users and for the athletics, recreation and physical education programs.

The new name is Falcon Center for health, education and wellness.

The $63.5 million project includes construction of a new 162,300-square-foot addition fitted onto the existing Hunt-Knowles Athletic Complex adjacent to Ramer Field.

The work also includes remodeling 14,670 square feet of the existing Hunt-Knowles building so it ties into the addition, as well as other improvements in the general area of the athletic complex.

The building addition will house classrooms, a human performance laboratory, a big gym, a dance studio, an auxiliary gym, offices, lockers, training rooms and other supporting spaces. The new addition will also have a 720-stall parking lot.

Once Falcon Center is complete, UWRF plans to deconstruct the two other buildings that have been housing HHP activities: The 67,150-square-foot Karges Physical Education Center, built in 1959, and the 20,484-square-foot Emogene Nelson Building, built as a food-service facility in the early 1960s.

Removing the old buildings, which cannot be feasibly converted, eliminates the expense of operating and maintaining them.

Braun emphasizes that UWRF does not "demolish" buildings, which indicates that a structure is destroyed by a wrecking ball then the material carried to a landfill.

"That's not what we do anymore," he said, explaining that deconstruction means the building is disassembled piece by piece and 80% of the components are recycled.

Braun said the campus master plan on UWRF's website shows more detail on the university's plans for the space left when the old buildings are gone.

The Karges space will be used for a new residence hall, whenever enrollment and funding allow it. The Nelson space will become a new May Hall entrance that's accessible to people with disabilities.

As the program runs now, HHP instruction takes place at eight different campus locations, depending on the activity. Many of the areas have shortcomings such as overcrowding, poor ventilation and lack of accessibility for the disabled.

Fitness legacy propels need, funding

UW-River Falls boasts the only HHP program in Wisconsin accredited through the National Association of Sport and Physical Education (NASPE) for K-12 teacher certification; it is also one of few in the Midwest. The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction cited the curriculum as "an exemplary health-education model."

HHP Associate Professor Joe O'Kroy confirms that the NASPE accreditation is a mark of higher-quality distinction for the program. He adds that students can follow one of two HHP degree paths at UWRF -- health and physical education for teaching or exercise and sports science so they can pursue coaching, personal training or similar work with athletes.

Braun said, "One of the exciting things is that we just started a graduate program in the HHP studies."

Enrollment statistics show that the program has about 255 people majoring in HHP, more than 300 minoring in it, and a total of around 3,000 participating in one or some of its activities.

The UWRF 2012 Enrollment Reports show a total of 6,900 students attending the school. In contrast, when it built the Karges and Nelson buildings, the university served about 1,200 students.

Added to the campus athletic facilities since then were Hunt Arena for hockey in 1973, Knowles Center in 1986 to serve as an indoor field house, locker rooms in Karges Center in 1989, as well as Ramer Field, athletic fields and an intramural fields complex.

Nearly $50 million of the project's $63.5 million budget will go toward construction, with the remainder covering design and other fees, contingency, special equipment and 0.25% for the arts.

As reported by the Journal throughout the years, UWRF has long strategized on how to secure the funding for a new HHP building. Though requests to fund the building were made for several two-year budget cycles in a row, the state did not approve construction.

The majority of money for the project comes from borrowing supported by the general fund and by program revenue; the rest comes from trust funds and gifts or grants.

In different decisions at different times, students agreed to collectively commit $6.1 million through segregated fees; the UWRF Foundation provided $2 million toward the project. UWRF will recoup the approximate $4 million cost of the new parking lot through increased permit fees and revenue from event parking.

Much more information and detail about Falcon Center are available at the project's website: www.uwrf.edu/falconcenter.

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