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Renovate now: UW-Stout’s Heritage Hall project is vital, long overdue

Plan to update 1973 building needs state funding, would support students, state workforce needs

By Jerry Poling, UW Stout

Menomonie, Wis. — Two clear messages regarding University of Wisconsin-Stout were sent by Chancellor Katherine Frank and business and industry leaders to the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee during its statewide budget hearings in April: Renovation of Heritage Hall is needed to support Wisconsin’s workforce needs, and it’s needed now.

The 50-year-old academic building needs classroom, lab and mechanical updates throughout, according to testimony from more than two dozen people, to continue serving the needs of and driving innovation in the state. If funding is included in the budget, the programs based in Heritage Hall could produce 5,000 graduates over the next decade to boost the state’s economy in critical areas.

“In my conversations with industry partners throughout Wisconsin, I have heard concerns voiced about child care, mental health and other issues impacting local economies. Heritage Hall is part of the solution,” Frank said.

A renovated Heritage Hall at UW-Stout would feature new entrances on both sides of the building along with updated classrooms, labs and mechanical systems. / UW-Stout

Renovation is long overdue. “It will transform Heritage Hall into a state-of-the-art learning facility that addresses high-need workforce areas. Cross-sector connections mean that programs housed in the building will help to support the workforce challenges of other sectors, like those impacting manufacturing,” she said.

Speakers from a variety of industries echoed Frank’s comments while advocating for the project and reinforcing UW-Stout’s impact throughout the state.

Jason Manke, director of corporate recruitment at Kalahari Resorts in Wisconsin Dells, said the need for leaders in the hospitality industry continues to grow and UW-Stout’s hospitality and tourism program, a national leader, and a renovated Heritage Hall will help address “the critical need for qualified, local hospitality leaders.” Hospitality and tourism is a $12 billion a year industry in Wisconsin.

Katie Feuerholm, an education consultant, speaks on behalf of the UW-Stout Heritage Hall project at the Joint Finance Committee hearing in Eau Claire. / WisconsinEye

Ruben Nilsson is director of operations for Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery, which has a new facility in Menomonie. “The presence of UW-Stout was one of the deciding factors in locating this facility in Menomonie to address our current and future workforce needs.” The university provides graduates who address company needs in food science, manufacturing, nutrition, and tourism and hospitality — programs that are based in Heritage Hall. The cooperative hopes to build on the tradition of the dairy industry working with the UW System by “deepening ties with UW-Stout, its alumni and faculty.”

But the university needs state investment to maintain the leading-edge facilities that produce innovative, industry-ready graduates for which it’s known.

“Employers want students to graduate ready. UW-Stout needs facilities that are ready for the future to make this happen so it can continue to supply the economy and workforce for another 50 years,” testified Katie Feuerholm, a Wisconsin education consultant in career and technical education. She stressed the importance of appropriate space to reflect “the state-of-the-art instruction that the polytechnic university UW-Stout is known for.”

Christian Gausman, of OEM Fabricators in Baldwin, advocates for the Heritage Hall project at the Eau Claire hearing. / WisconsinEye

Other speakers who advocated for the Heritage Hall project at the hearings included:

  • Christian Gausman, director of Strategic Initiatives at OEM Fabricators of Baldwin, cited the importance of the child care profession in helping workers fill their shifts at the manufacturing company. UW-Stout has an early childhood education program at Heritage Hall. Many OEM leaders are UW-Stout graduates. “We’ve found UW-Stout to be a great partner,” Gausman said while urging the Legislature to support the renovation of an aging building.

  • Angela Yudes, senior learning performance specialist at Andersen, toured Heritage Hall recently and saw firsthand some of its deficiencies. “As an employer, it’s very important for our employees to have child care services in our area and for our employees to access mental health care. If we’re going to be asking students to be developing into these fields, they deserve to have a better building to do that in.”

  • Ashley DeMuth, Menomonie Chamber of Commerce CEO who traveled to Minoqua to address the Joint Finance Committee again after speaking in Wisconsin Dells, said, “This isn’t just about academics. It’s about building on the future talent pipeline and retaining students. Funding this project is an investment with a return that will be defined for years.”

  • Krystal Westphal, executive director of Let’s Minoqua Visitor Bureau & Chamber of Commerce, shared DeMuth’s perspective and spoke to the impact of UW-Stout graduates in her region.

  • Jane Busch, human resources at Andersen in Menomonie, said UW-Stout’s clinical services center and child care resources are used by many employees. “The quality of employees and people Stout provides is unmatched. It’s amazing to have this university right in our back yard.”

Several of those who testified are alumni. Faculty, staff and students also testified in support of the project.

The Heritage Hall renovation has been sought by UW-Stout since 2007. As the student spaces and infrastructure in the building have aged, the UW System has named the project No. 1 on its list for academic building projects in the Chippewa Valley.

However, final approval is needed by way of the 2023-25 state budget or project completion would be delayed several more years, until 2031. The building will be shovel ready by May 2024. Planning and design for the renovation is nearly 50% complete. The cost of the project is estimated at $139 million but is increasing by about $10 million a year.

Along with early child care education, programs in Heritage provide career-ready graduates in various teacher education fields; school counseling and clinical mental health counseling; marriage and family therapy; hospitality and tourism; real estate property management; food science; and dietetics.

Demand for UW-Stout graduates continues to grow. The employment rate of recent graduates has risen to 99.4% and remains the highest in the UW System, based on a new First Destination report. Nearly 60% of those hired work in Wisconsin.

Ashley DeMuth, of the Menomonie Chamber of Commerce, speaks at the hearing in Wisconsin Dells. / WisconsinEye

Additional support for Heritage

In addition to testimony at the budget hearings, numerous letters supporting the project were written to Joint Finance Committee members supporting the project.

Private gifts through Stout University Foundation to support academic programs at Heritage Hall have risen to $13.5 million, including a recent $1 million gift for the real estate property management program from Weidner Apartment Homes.

"UW-Stout has a long history of preparing graduates who contribute to Rockwell Automation’s success, helping Wisconsin lead the way in industrial automation innovation,” said Michael Cook, director of Global Academic Enablement, Rockwell Automation. “Our ability to attract a skilled workforce includes having access to resources that improve the lives of our employees such as quality child care, education and professional development opportunities. We strongly support the UW-Stout Heritage Hall Renovation Project and urge the state to fund this project.”

At the recent UW System Board of Regents meeting held at UW-Stout, a panel of professionals discussed the importance of programs at Heritage Hall.

One of them was Toni Simonson, executive director of Western Wisconsin Behavioral Health Division for Hospital Sisters Health System/Prevea Health. She said that the clinical mental health counseling program is helping address a major shortage of mental health providers in the state.

“Stout’s approach to preparing students is spot-on. It’s not just the training but the applied learning piece of it and the experience Stout students get. They practice what is taught. It’s exactly what our community needs,” Simonson said.

The last major academic building renovation at UW-Stout was Harvey Hall in 2015. The last new building on campus was Sorensen Hall (formerly Millennium Hall) in 2000. 

UW-Stout is Wisconsin’s Polytechnic University, with a focus on applied learning, collaboration with business and industry, and career outcomes. Learn more via the FOCUS2030 strategic plan.

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