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(Beloit, WI) By Shaun Zinck, Beloit Daily News    

It is an innovative and somewhat unprecedented vision.

The Powerhouse Project at Beloit College looks to combine student union and athletic spaces into one building, and to house it all in a former coal-burning powerhouse station across the street from the main campus.

On Wednesday Beloit College officials unveiled the most recent plans for the powerhouse at the Center for the Sciences in front of a crowd of college students, staff and community members.

The original plans had a field house, with glass walls, built on top of the existing building. Plans revealed Wednesday have moved that field house to the north side of the building as an addition.

Beloit College President Scott Bierman said moving the field house to ground level offers more opportunity to open up the building to the public.

“It offers programmatic opportunities that didn’t exist when it was on the roof,” he said. “There it sits with the opportunity to open the doors up to the north, and it opens to the river.”

He added the field house could also be used as a backup plan for graduation ceremonies during inclement weather. Most of the other plans that were revealed in May are still the same, including building a bridge that will connect the main campus across Riverside Drive to the powerhouse, and preserving the smoke stack feature of the building.

Bierman added the building also will feature a riverwalk along the east side of the Rock River. In August, the City of Beloit and the college announced a $1 million grant from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation to build the riverwalk.

“We opened up this project to the community and asked, ‘What do you want in this space?’” Bierman said. “Christina (Klawitter, dean of students) and her staff went and talked to hundreds of people, and at the end of the day there were well over 1 million square feet of requests in a building that maybe had 130,000 square feet.”

Chicago-based Studio Gang Architects designed the plans for the building, which include a pool, three-lane track, lounge areas for students, a gym and wellness center. Klawitter said some people were skeptical of the idea to combine student engagement spaces and workout spaces.

“We can never lose sight of who this building is for: the students,” Klawitter said.

She added the building will be covered in an “isothermal envelope” that will use the water from the river to regulate the temperature inside the building. This will reduce the energy needed throughout the year.

Joe Peacock, a sophomore computer science and economics major at the college, said he was skeptical when he first heard about the project.

“I thought of a student union space and athletic space as two things a college needed that belong in two different buildings,” he said. “This project has really changed my view on it. The way Studio Gang has really integrated them together offers a couple of awesome opportunities for the community.”

Peacock said he likes to run, and by bringing together the “hang-out” spaces and exercise spaces it will hopefully encourage more students to live healthier lives.

Larry Arft, city manager, said the community is very excited about the possibilities the powerhouse has to offer.

“Beloit has become the platinum standard when it comes to benchmarking and repurposing old buildings,” Arft said. “Ken and now Diane Hendricks obviously have been leading the way by redoing old industrial buildings and dead malls. Beloit College has been a major partner for many years for the buildings downtown.”

Renovations to the building will cost about $38 million, and all the funds will be raised through donors. Jason Hughes, director of communications and marketing for the college, said fundraising for the project is beginning now and will continue over the next two years.

Bierman said he would like to see the project come to life as soon as possible. The college has set 2018 as a goal to finish the renovations.

“My hope is that you will be partners,” Bierman told the crowd. “I will ask you to be the spokespeople. As members of this community I can’t tell you how valuable it is for you to be...willing to talk about this project and what it is that you find valuable. I know Beloit well enough to know that all of you will see benefits associated with this project in very different ways.”

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