Renee Strehlau – University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire
Renee Strehlau’s footsteps have been winding through the University of Wisconsin’s 13 campuses since 1997. Completing her bachelor’s in interior design in 2000 from its Stout location, she became a facilities coordinator there upon graduation. Seven months later, she was hired as the facilities designer at the Eau Claire campus—and has enjoyed helping evolve and develop it ever since.
As the associate director of facilities and campus planner for UW’s Eau Claire campus since May 2018, she may be simultaneously working on improvements to Gantner Theater to perfect the acoustics for the music department and renovating the locker rooms for the various sports teams all while installing new hoods in the laboratories of the science and biology buildings.
Regardless of the task or project, she believes communication is key to building and maintaining facilities catering to the needs of students, faculty and staff.
Communication between Mayo Clinic Health System and UWEC has been the catalyst for the school’s ability to advance its research goals and continue being a leader in undergraduate science and health sciences studies. A project well over $300 million, the new science and health sciences building will include state-of-the-art equipment and a 10,000-square-foot shared research workspace with Mayo Clinic Health System.
In addition to science courses, such as biochemistry and biology, the building will also be home to courses in nursing and other pre-medicine topics.
“This building—and what it will allow students and researchers to accomplish—is a cause for celebration,” Strehlau tells Blueprint. “It is a state-of-the-art, interdisciplinary building, and we cannot wait to open its doors.”
A new home from scientific endeavors
The design phase for the 330,000-square-foot building started in 2019 after the state approved the first phase of the budget. It will be built where two residence halls used to stand; the residence halls, which Strehlau says wouldn’t have been cost-effective to renovate, were demolished in fall 2022.
The second and final phase of funding was completed July 5, 2023, when Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers approved the state budget.
Strehlau and others working on the project anticipate construction to begin early 2024—and hope to open doors to students, researchers and those from Mayo Clinic Health System following an approximately three-year construction process. In the meantime, those interested can follow the progress of the project in a live stream.
“We’re aiming to create a very welcoming and collaborative physical environment, designed to showcase science on display; after all, every student has to take at least one science class,” Strehlau says.
Mastering the master plan
Strehlau is no stranger to complicated, long-term projects and plans. In fact, in early 2010, she worked with the campus leadership to create a 20-year plan for the campus buildings and grounds.
Since 2012, she has supported and led the facilities team in meeting the goals of this master plan. In the plan’s first year, UWEC opened The Priory, a 48-room residence hall for upper classmen who want single rooms, with a separate building for a childcare center. In 2016 and 2017, the team began focusing on off-campus housing, and in 2019, they opened The Suites, which houses over 400 students.
Through the master plan, the facilities team has also worked on Davies Student Center, which opened in 2012; Centennial Hall academic building, in 2014; Pablo Center for Performing Arts, in 2018; and, a year later, a new brick archway and water fountain serving as the gateway to the campus.
One of the largest projects in the master plan has been the development of the Garfield Corridor on Garfield Avenue. This $12.4 million project, which wrapped up in 2019, involved upgrading all utilities in the lower campus. The work also focused on sustainability and prioritizing bicyclists and pedestrians over vehicle traffic.
“We are now building off how that directly tied into our master plan and the vision of what our lower campus looks like,” Strehlau says. “With the Garfield project, we really changed how the campus looked and made a nod to the beautiful river next to us.”
Water, water everywhere
The Chippewa River runs right through UWEC’s campus, and is one of Strehlau’s favorite campus features, as she enjoys boating and being around water.
The people on campus are another important feature. In 2015, the university underwent severe budget cuts, which prompted a major overhaul of the facilities team’s focus and purpose on campus. She worked closely with the director of facilities at the time to redefine roles, workflows and work order processes.
She built a planning and construction team with project managers, project coordinators, interior designers, planning analysts, drafting specialists, part-time individuals and two interns. Before her initiative, the planning and facilities departments had been separate entities.
“We in facilities realized it made sense to help and be involved from start to finish, concept to completion, though there is still a handoff between the implementation and construction phases,” Strehlau says.
For her and her team, budget and student needs equally drive their decisions and their work, which is why she spent so much time and effort looking for efficiencies and ways to restructure position descriptions to better serve the campus as well as its programs, students and staff.
“I love managing the small city of UWEC and collaborating not just with my teams but others across campus to create the best experience for anyone who steps onto our grounds, whether it’s to obtain a degree or a beautiful aerial picture of the Chippewa River,” Strehlau says.
View this feature in the Blueprint Vol. VII 2023 Edition here.
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