Cutting ribbon on a new U

From left, UWL Student Association President Jacob Schimmel, UWL Chancellor Joe Gow, UWL Student Association Vice President Patrick Brever, and Director of University Centers Larry Ringgenberg cut the ribbon on UWL’s new Student Union.

Many student stories inspire UWL’s newest building

When the UW-La Crosse Student Union construction started six years ago, the corner of East Avenue and Farwell Street was a parking lot with a ranch style home renovated to be a police services building.

Since then a four-story, 204,287-square-foot structure has unfolded. The exterior blends the campus architectural history with a modern design inspired by the area’s natural surroundings and UWL students’ stories.

“To see people actually fill it and give it life is truly special,” said Scott Kindness, owner of Kindness Architecture + Planning during the ceremony.

It’s been amazing to see what was once just a drawing take physical shape, said Scott Kindness, owner of Kindness Architecture + Planning.

“To see people actually fill it and give it life is truly special,” he said.

Kindness was one of many speakers during a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new building on Tuesday, Jan. 24. Larry Ringgenberg, director of University Centers, spoke of the “wonderful history of student involvement” at UWL that played into the creation of the building. In fact, UWL student involvement launched the building process when students voted to construct a new student center in April 2012 instead of making needed repairs to Cartwright Center.

Jason Krug, ’12, was a leader of the UWL Student Association four years ago. He recalled walking around campus with a mock-up of the building, trying to convince fellow students that the drawing was something they should be proud of and support – even though the vast majority wouldn’t still be on campus when it was finished.

Jason Krug, ’12, former UWL Student Association leader, speaks of student involvement in the building approval and planning process during the ceremony.

Krug returned to campus for the ribbon cutting. “The moment I walked in there and saw students coming from three different directions on that main floor, my heart swelled as an alum of this campus,” he said. “This is definitely the heartbeat of a campus and a community.”

Krug chose to stay in La Crosse after graduation. He now works in La Crosse remotely for a company that creates software solutions for construction. While he and his peers started the process to build the new U, he says current students also have work ahead of them. They’ll need to help create events and programming at the U that will draw people in from the campus and community.

Student engagement in the building process continued after Krug graduated. UWL administrators made it their mission to involve students every step of the way, explained UWL Student Association President Jacob Schimmel. That student participation was key to the project’s success, noted Kindness.

“What was really special for us was how engaged the students were,” said Kindness. “We heard this campus student participation was at a high level, and you were.”

Students shared their stories in the planning stages, which are layered into the building’s design, explained Kindness. One such story is the students’ drive for collaboration with each other among groups like the Student Association, Pride Center and Racquet. They were all split up inside Cartwright Center. Those groups now have the ability to collaborate easily in The COVE, a suite that houses all student organizations. It is designed like a small town, with private spaces for organizations – like homes – and large areas for collaboration – like central gathering spaces in a town, explained Kindness.

Other spaces in the building are left open to make room for the stories of future students, he added.

A view of the UWL student union’s southeast side, which is inspired by Grandad Bluff to the university’s east.

“This will be a really great living room for our campus. I’m hoping that it is more than a living room,” said Ringgenberg. “I hope that it is a community center that can bring our faculty, staff and students all together — to learn together, and be a building that is significant in the La Crosse community as well.”