The State of Wisconsin Department of Administration's Division of Facilities Development (DFD) has retained Ayres Associates on behalf of the University of Wisconsin System to prepare an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of the proposed Towers Hall renovation project at UW-Eau Claire. The EIA will be prepared in accordance with the Wisconsin Environmental Policy Act (WEPA), Wisconsin Statutes 1.11, and University of Wisconsin System Administration (UWSA) guidelines (Board of Regents' Resolution 2508, November 6, 1981). An initial requirement of the EIA is the scoping process. The intent of the scoping process is to identify any potential impact of the project on the physical, biological, social, and economic environments. Because you or your agency or group may have an interest in the project, we are inviting you to participate in the scoping process.
Demand for on-campus student housing well exceeds its existing capacity. Residence halls have typically been at approximately 108% occupancy for the last decade. The University has accommodated demand by utilizing lounge spaces, assigning double rooms as triple occupancy, assigning roommates to residential hall advisors, and renting approximately 200 beds at two West Clairemont Avenue hotels. These stopgap measures are inconsistent with University student development goals, but have been in place for over a decade. The majority of the existing housing stock is undersized in relation to national benchmarks and does not adequately provide common study and programming space necessary to meet student development goals. Housing students at more than the designed capacity of the residence halls detracts from a quality student life experience.
To meet student demand and its strategic goals, UW-Eau Claire has identified the need to increase the total supply of beds to reach 4,700 to 5,000 beds by the year 2027. Increased on-campus housing capacity would be achieved by adding a combination of suite-style rooms and apartments while also accounting for the loss of 590 beds from the future demolition of Horan, Putnam, and Thomas Halls. UW-Eau Claire also identified the need to de-densify existing residence halls by 12% through renovation to provide approximately 225 square feet per bed. The renovation and addition of new residence halls would reinforce UW-Eau Claire's brand as a university committed to providing on-campus housing, supporting recruitment and retention goals, and increasing student life on campus.
Towers Hall was constructed in 1966 and is the largest residence hall on the UW-Eau Claire campus, housing approximately one third of campus residents. The hall currently houses 1,341 students (630 in the South Tower and 711 in the North Tower), exceeding the building's design capacity. It is also considered to be one of the more important residence halls because it is one of the only halls open during break periods when other residence halls are vacated. Towers Hall has not been renovated since its initial construction. Most of the infrastructure is past its usable life and is at a higher risk for failure. Student comfort is also compromised due to leaking windows, inadequate heat control, outdated bathrooms, non-compliance with current accessibility standards, and high-density occupancy.
Prioritizing Towers Hall for renovation would provide a significant improvement to the quality of student life on the campus due to its size and use during break periods. Separate projects to increase the overall capacity of on-campus housing through the construction of new residence halls are already underway and will aid in meeting University housing goals in conjunction with existing hall renovations.
Proposed Project Action
The proposed project involves the renovation of both the North Tower and South Tower of the Towers Residence Hall, which was constructed in 1966. The two towers currently house 1,341 students (630 in the South Tower and 711 in the North Tower), exceeding the building's original design capacity. In addition to renovation, the proposed project would also restore the building to its original design capacity with 585 beds in the South Tower and 657 beds in the North Tower for a total bed count of 1,242.
The areas of the building proposed to be renovated include common areas, bathrooms, and programmatic areas of the basement and first floor levels. Renovation work would include upgrading the building to provide accessibility that meets current Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards. The exterior envelope of the building would be repaired as needed, and all existing sealant joints and exterior windows would be replaced. All heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems would be replaced or upgraded, and air conditioning would be added throughout the building to meet demands of summer conferences. All plumbing, electrical and information technology (IT) systems would be renovated to current standards, and elevators would be refurbished. Finishes and lighting would also be upgraded in the corridors and public areas.
The proposed project includes a 1,965-GSF addition at the first floor and lower level to provide better entry and security functionality, and improve access to the lower level. An existing breezeway on the west side of the South Tower would also be enclosed to create a vestibule. A new penthouse located on the roof in the center of both north and south towers would house an energy recovery unit to provide ventilation air to the corridor, lounges and other non-resident rooms.
New landscaping and decorative fencing is proposed to be installed under this project to provide softer, more natural, privacy elements for Hall Director patios. Shade trees would be added to provide a more pleasant environment at the existing patio on the south face of the building. Existing large lawn areas would not be impacted by the addition or remodeling.
In order to minimize the effect on overall room availability, the proposed renovation project would be phased so that only one tower is off-line at a time. Infrastructure improvements would be constructed during summer months when the entire complex will be vacant. Construction activity would also be restricted to specific areas during occupancy. The university would lease off-campus facilities to provide replacement beds for the duration of this project.
The estimated total project cost is $32,969,000 to be funded by Program Revenue Supported Borrowing. Bid opening for the project is slated for July 2017. Construction is planned to commence in October 2017, and substantial completion is scheduled for August 2019.
A Scoping Letter to solicit input on potential environmental impacts of the project was sent to selected parties and agencies on December 19, 2016. The first response received was a generic email response from Governor Scott Walker, and did not contain any input specific to the proposed project. The second response was received from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, which stated that there were no major environmental concerns with the project proposal, and that appropriate permits should be acquired for land disturbing activities and post construction storm water treatment. Both of these recommendations have been incorporated in the EIA.
The Draft EIA was announced in the Leader Telegram on January 18, 2017, as available for a 15-day minimum public review period. One comment was received from University of Wisconsin Colleges – North Region indicating that previous flooding of Hall Director patios had also flooded Hall Director apartments, resulting in the need for renovations to the apartments. There were no controversies identified by public comments. A Draft EIA public meeting was held on Thursday, February 9, 2017, at 5:30 p.m. in Room 2924 of Centennial Hall on the UW-Eau Claire campus. The meeting was open to the public and was attended by representatives of the design team, UW-Eau Claire, and Ayres Associates. There were no attendees from the public at the meeting, and no additional comments were received on the project. Information and comments provided during the meeting and throughout the public comment period are included in the Final EIA report.
The UW-Eau Claire WEPA Coordinator has reviewed the Draft EIA and comments received during the Draft EIA public comment period to determine if a recommendation is needed to elevate this project to a Type I Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) level. The WEPA Coordinator for UW-Eau Claire concludes that this project is not a "major action that would significantly affect the quality of the human environment," and therefore does not necessitate an EIS. Therefore, it is the opinion of the campus WEPA Coordinator that this Final EIA meets the spirit and intent of the Wisconsin Environmental Policy Act, concludes the WEPA process in accordance with Wis. Stats §1.11, and recommends the campus proceed with the proposed project as planned. The Final EIA document was signed by the UW-Eau Claire WEPA Coordinator on March 1, 2017.
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