Making Sonnentag sustainable | Front Page

EAU CLAIRE — The Pablo Foundation, UW-Eau Claire students and the Eau Claire city government are all making contributions to reduce the environmental impact of a soon-to-be-built event center and field house.

The $12 million in combined contributions were highlighted in a Thursday morning news conference on the sustainability features being incorporated in the Sonnentag Event Center and John and Carolyn Sonnentag Fieldhouse.

“True to our mission, this project prioritizes our planet, and it is our sincere hope that the carbon-reducing features of the Sonnentag Center will serve as a model, to be replicated again and again in our community, and even across the nation,” said MaiVue Xiong, executive director of the Pablo Foundation.

The Eau Claire-based foundation announced it will provide a $5 million grant and a $4.997 million low-interest loan to the construction project to pay for features that will allow the building complex to use renewable energy and consume less power overall.

Those include a geothermal system and related equipment for heating and cooling, additional wall and roof insulation, and a high-performance glazing for windows.

David Delfosse of Ayres Associates, lead architect for the building project, detailed how all the added environmentally-conscious features will save energy, reduce fossil fuel use and cut down on waste.

“We’ve got a very lofty goal of net-zero energy and net-zero carbon,” he said.

The building’s heating, cooling and water heating will be provided by 200 geothermal wells on the site, currently estimated to go about 500 feet deep to harness energy through the earth’s consistent temperature found at that depth.

The complex is also looking to get all of its electricity from a new solar panel array to be built in the Eau Claire area.

Mark Stoering, president of Xcel Energy in Wisconsin and Michigan, said the utility company is rolling out a new program that will let businesses get their power needs from new solar arrays.

“We’ll partner with those customers for these solutions,” he said.

For a new solar array that will power the Sonnentag buildings and other business customers in the area, Xcel is already scouting out land. Stoering said Xcel is looking to create a 5-megawatt array for that — five times the size of the community solar garden created several years ago next to Xcel’s offices at the Sky Park Industrial Center in Eau Claire.

Xcel is also donating five park benches topped with solar-panel canopies to the Sonnentag project so people have a place to sit outside and free electricity to recharge their smartphones and other devices.

Parking lots outside the Sonnentag buildings will include 10 electric vehicle charging stations plus the buried infrastructure to add more.

“We’ve been mindful for the future,” Delfosse said. “We’re planning for a whole lot more.”

Energy-efficient LED lighting throughout the complex and an automation system to control and monitor energy use are among the other features.

Conserving water is another one of the environmental goals of the new complex.

By using native plants outside the buildings and cutting back on irrigation, Delfosse said the complex will use 50% less water outdoors than a facility with standard landscaping.

And indoors, added conservation features will cut water use by 30% when compared to a same-size facility that meets minimum building codes.

For the actual construction, there is a plan in place to reduce construction waste by at least 75% from a normal building project, resulting in fewer materials ending up in a landfill, Delfosse said.

In addition to Pablo Foundation, other groups have also put money toward building the new event center and field house and running them sustainably.

The university’s Student Senate allocated $150,000 last year toward getting Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification for the building project. Next week the Student Senate will vote on an additional $200,000 toward that and to subject the complex to the WELL Health-Safety Rating, which monitors building air and water quality, moisture management, cleaning and sanitation practices.

Terry Weld, president of the Eau Claire City Council, pointed out that among the city government’s contributions to the project is $1.5 million specifically tied to sustainable features.

UW-Eau Claire Chancellor James Schmidt thanked those who have provided money so the project could be more environmentally-friendly.

“The city of Eau Claire and Xcel Energy have been steadfast partners and the Pablo Foundation is truly the wind beneath our wings,” he said. “Not only is their generosity powering the building, but it is giving us the courage and determination to continue to work aggressively to reduce our carbon footprint and to build new buildings that will not only serve our students but that will have a role in ensuring a healthy world for future generations.”

During Thursday’s news conference, Schmidt mentioned how the sustainability features will cut down on energy and water bills for the complex, but the project still needed help of local donors to pay their up-front costs.

“In the long run, sustainability does pay itself back,” he said.

A new class debuting at UW-Eau Claire will closely follow the construction of the complex.

“We’ll be using the process of the building’s construction as a teaching tool,” said Professor James Boulter, who teaches courses on public health, environmental studies, chemistry and biochemistry.

The new course entitled “building sustainability in the academy” will be taught during the fall semester while construction is under way, he said.

The university has built a new student center, academic building, welcome center and dormitory on campus in the past 10 years, but Boulter said the Sonnentag complex will be the first truly sustainable facility at UW-Eau Claire.

During Thursday’s news conference, he said it’s important to take sustainability into consideration while making a building because it has long-term effects on the environment.

“How we design and how we construct our buildings commits us to how we heat, cool and power them in the future,” Boulter said.

Kimera Way, president of the UW-Eau Claire Foundation, said the building project is preparing to see higher costs based on construction price inflation seen nationwide.

“We’re trying to anticipate the worst but hope for the best,” she said.

Construction costs for the entire complex are currently expected to come in at $100.6 million, according to a university news release sent after Thursday’s news conference.

However, additional costs including a contingency for rising construction materials prices has the total budget currently at $127 million, Way said. Just a few months ago the total price tag had been $107 million, based on a news release issued in December by the university.

Way said she was pleasantly surprised at how some of the early bids came in. But she added that doesn’t yet include the large amount of steel the project will need, and that’s a material where price inflation has been evident.

The majority of the complex’s construction will be funded by donations, led by a $70 million contribution of cash and land from alumni John and Carolyn Sonnentag, who’s family owns County Materials Corp. In October, the city set terms for a $7.88 million contribution to the complex along with plans for $4.19 million in public infrastructure improvements in its vicinity.

But construction won’t be entirely covered by philanthropy, as Way noted that some of it will be financed and paid back through a $90 per semester fee students will pay toward the complex and revenues from renting out the facility.

A ceremonial groundbreaking will be held Monday morning at land along Menomonie Street where the event center and field house will be in what is collectively called the County Materials Complex. Construction is scheduled to finish in spring 2024.

Blugold Real Estate, an arm of the UW-Eau Claire Foundation, is developing the County Materials Complex, which will replace Zorn Arena on campus as an indoor sports venue and host numerous events for the university and community. The complex will include the 5,000-seat Sonnentag Event Center for Blugold basketball games and live performances, an enclosed 100-yard turf field, a Mayo Clinic diagnostic imaging and sports medicine center, a fitness center for UW-Eau Claire, university athletics offices and a commons area.

Earlier this month, the Pablo Group announced it will also be building a 126-room SpringHill Suites by Marriott at the site along Menomonie Street.

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