Wade Hackbarth, Western Technical College’s vice president of finance and operations, knows driving down Street Street near campus nowadays can be a little surprising.
“It can be a bit of a shock for someone who hasn’t visited La Crosse for a while,” said Hackbarth. “It really has been a dramatic transformation.”
That transformation is a result of Western’s Vision 2020 referendum, passed by technical college district voters in 2012. The nearly $80 million project reshaped most educational buildings on the La Crosse campus, all while transforming the student experience and improving educational outcomes.
“Western’s ambitious goals in Vision 2020 were about creating a successful path for students,” Hackbarth said. “But it was also about improving our infrastructure to meet the needs of today’s students.”
The overall plan for the Vision 2020 project remained significantly under budget. Much of the savings came from lower than expected bids for each building project. The savings resulted in cutting the cost to taxpayers by 23 percent. In 2017, Western refinanced the referendum debt, with the end result being a $2 million savings in interest for taxpayers.
Beyond improving existing buildings and the overall student experience, the Vision 2020 facilities projects aim to decrease the overall environmental footprint of the college. Despite the advanced age of several buildings, all were remodeled during Vision 2020 using the original skeleton of each building. The college calculates it saved roughly $50 per square foot by renovating existing buildings rather than constructing new buildings. It is equal to a savings of more than $16 million.
Originally built in 1923, the Coleman Center has served students at Western for nearly 100 years. If you look closely, you can still see the original building. From the exposed brick wall inside and the original entrance architecture, Western was diligent about preserving some of the history of the La Crosse Vocational School. But what it didn’t want to hold on to was the cost of heating and cooling a nearly 100-year-old building. Just by replacing the outdated roof and windows, however, the building is estimated to be about 20 percent more energy efficient than it was five years ago. The extra investment is expected to pay off in about 5½ years.
“This is a model for what buildings can and probably should be looking like in the years to come,” said Casey Meehan, WTC’s sustainability coordinator. “We are saving the taxpayers money.”
With the Vision 2020 projects completed as of June 2017, the end result is a series of eco-friendly buildings that enhances the student experience, all while saving taxpayers money.
“Western’s commitment to sustainability has morphed into a beautiful opportunity to enrich and educate our staff, students, and community on the value of being resilient,” Western President Roger Stanford said. “We are thrilled that these building projects will create a lasting imprint for years to come.”