News Release

Published on Monday, October 01, 2012

Western Technical College in Black River Falls will host a community event on Tuesday, Oct. 16 at the newly completed downtown location at 24 Fillmore St. A short program at 3:30 p.m. will include a ribbon-cutting ceremony and recognition of local businesses and individuals who donated to the project. The public is invited to stop by anytime between 3:30-5:00 p.m. for refreshments and tours of the facility.

Western purchased the former IGA building in 2010 and starting remodeling the 18,000-square-foot facility in late summer of that year. To keep within the college’s budget limits, remodeling of the new location had to be completed in phases and spread out over two years. The first phase of interior construction was completed in January, allowing spring 2011 classes to be held in the new location. Exterior work began in summer 2011, and the second phase of interior work to create additional classrooms and an area dedicated to the nursing program was started in spring 2012. These two final projects will wrap up this week.

The most eye-catching work for the last several weeks has been the landscaping, which is unlike typical landscaping. The goal is to create welcoming campus grounds while minimizing the use of toxic chemicals, protecting habitat, and conserving water and resources. The new raingarden uses native plants to filter stormwater runoff from buildings into the ground rather than into the streets and hard surfaces.

“Western has committed to making sustainable choices in all of our remodeling, whether it’s on our La Crosse campuses or at our regional locations,” explained Mike Pieper, Western’s vice president of finance and operations. “At Black River Falls, we are replicating the same stormwater management practices that we have in La Crosse.”

Prior to the downtown Black River Falls location, Western was located at 808 Red Iron Road in the industrial park. The college was at capacity in that building and was looking to expand its program offerings. Two options were considered – remodeling and adding on to the existing 8,000-square-foot facility or finding a new location.

One of the factors that affected the decision was the energy efficiency of the former location. It was the most inefficient building that Western owned and was the sixth worst building in terms of energy usage in the Wisconsin Technical College System.

Another major factor was the willingness of donors to support purchasing a new downtown location. That funding made the building purchase possible as well as an area dedicated to the nursing program. The remainder of the costs was part of the college’s district-wide budget planning.

“The decision was not entered into lightly,” said Pieper. “We ultimately decided to follow the success of our other downtown campus locations in La Crosse, Tomah, and Viroqua. This location provides us with the space we need, ample parking, and better access for our students.”

Sally Lister, the Jackson County representative who serves on Western Technical College’s District Board, feels the downtown location is mutually beneficial. “Western is now in the heart of the city. It is walkable for many community members, not to mention the positive impact it can have on surrounding businesses,” she said.

Last academic year, the downtown location served over 1,100 students. That number is expected to grow for 2012-13 with the completion of the additional classroom space. Students at the Black River Falls location can take general studies courses that apply to a range of Western programs, or they can complete entire associate’s degree programs, such as Accounting, Administrative Professional, Business Management, Supervisory Management, Associate of Science-Liberal Arts, and Nursing. Technical diplomas for Office Support Specialist and Accounting Assistant as well as several certificates, including Nursing Assistant, are also offered. Lifelong learning, professional development, adult basic education, and business and industry services training round out the opportunities at the new location.

“Western has an important role in the economic development of Black River Falls,” said Lister. “The college has developed partnerships with businesses and organizations to meet the needs of the community. Our local industries look to Western for skilled workers, especially since 81 percent of the graduates continue to live and work within the district.”

The Black River Falls nursing cohort is possible through partnerships with the Lunda Foundation, Black River Memorial Hospital, and in collaboration with the UW-Eau Claire Nursing program. Other partnerships include the Renaissance Program between Western’s Instructional Support Services and the Black River Falls School District, and a welding institute with the Black River Falls High School, Jackson County Department of Corrections, and Western’s Business and Industry Services.

“We hope the community will come to the event on the 16th to see the finished building and find out a little more about how Western benefits the Black River Falls area,” said Lister.

For those unable to attend the ribbon-cutting, Western will be hosting its annual College-wide Open House on Thursday, Oct. 18, from 4:00-7:00 p.m. Tours and refreshments will be available, and the $30 application fee will be waived for those enrolling for spring or fall 2013.