Sonnentag Complex brings mixed emotions in community

Students share their individual perspectives on the Sonnentag Complex

More stories from Natalie Leonardelli

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This digital rendering depicts what the Sonnentag Complex may look like ©2021, Ayres Associates

In 2012, the building of the new UW-Eau Claire Davies Center was completed. This center provides meeting rooms, ballrooms, theater space and dining areas and is able to accommodate thousands of people at a time.

Throughout the entire process of proposing, designing and building the center, students expressed mixed opinions about the budget, which was estimated at $48.8 million. Now, students are reflecting similar concerns with the new Sonnentag Complex.

The new complex, with a proposed budget of $75 million, has drawn concern from some students, specifically around the funding and utilization of the building.

“Having students pay $90 in segregated fees per semester is a lot for a building that they might seldom use,” Maddie Loeffler, an environmental geography major, said. “I think a lot of students don’t have a spare $700 to spend on something like this.”

On April 14, 61% of students voted ‘yes’ to a referendum that would increase student segregated fees to $90 per semester after the complex is built, which would be for the use and maintenance of the building.

The center would replace 70-year-old Zorn Arena and would provide a 24-hour wellness/fitness spaces, an event center and sports clinic and imaging clinic. The City of Eau Claire, Mayo Clinic Health Center, UW-Eau Claire Foundation and UW-Eau Claire are all partners in the project.

Unlike the Davies Center, the segregated fees for the Sonnentag Complex will never exceed $90. Also unlike Davies, student segregated fees will not comprise the sole budget for the complex.

“If we were to go through the traditional state process, instead of the public-private partnership that we have, students would have to pay for the entire thing, and the segregated fee would have been a lot more,” Anna Ziebell, former student body president, said.

Ziebell said that she did not want students to pay hundreds and hundreds of dollars for the facility. Ziebell also thinks that it is important that people are concerned about the fee.

“I wanted students to truly voice how they felt and if they were supportive or not,” Ziebell said.

According to Ziebell, students were paying for the Davie’s Center years before it was ever built. For the Sonnentag Complex, Ziebell said it is better for the student body to vote on the building now and pay the fee after it is built. Ziebell expressed that the student senate wanted to ensure that students will never pay more than $90 for the fee.

Caleb Kulich, a fourth-year communications major and environment, society and culture minor, is in support of the Sonnentag Complex. Kulich believes that there is a need for updated buildings on campus and that the Sonnentag complex is an indication of where the University would like to go with its new infrastructure.

“I think there’s a recognition that we need these updated buildings,” Kulich said, “not only because of the facilities themselves being used by more students, but also environmentally.”

Kulich expressed that the sustainability component of the complex has been the most pressing for him. Kulich hopes that the complex will meet the campus’s goal of being carbon neutral by 2050.

According to Kim Way, the president of the UW-Eau Claire Foundation, the Sonnentag Complex will be the first resilient building in the state. This means that it will be able to serve as a community shelter during large-scale emergencies and sustain operations during power outages through solar panels and storage batteries.

In regards to voting on the $90 segregated fee, Kulich said that he views it similarly to a national election in that people vote for decisions that affect people in years to come.

“The purpose of a vote like this is to put yourself in the shoes of somebody that would have to pay that segregated fee, even if you know that you might not personally be affected,” Kulich said.

Kulich said that he would have voted yes for the referendum even if it did impact him because he views it as a worthwhile investment. He thinks that the academic aspect of it, specifically for kinesiology majors, will be a great use of student dollars.

After taking classes in the Pablo Center, Kulich said that the experience was a large part of why he voted ‘yes’ to the referendum.

“I saw firsthand how beneficial that new addition to the students it affected, particularly students in the music and acting departments,” he said.

Some students have not expressed the same excitement that Kulich has towards the complex, however. Some have chosen to express their dissent over having future students pay the fee, as well as if those students will actually utilize the building.

“I know in comparison to the rest of our tuition [the fee] is not that much, but when you think about it, that could be two months of rent that a student might not be able to pay,” Maddie Loeffler, director of the Student Office of Sustainability, said.

Loeffler also expressed that the complex might be a financial burden for students that might never use it. One worry Loeffler has is if the building will be LEED certified, which is the most widely used green building rating system in the world.

“There would need to be a ton of planning and efforts by the design team to get this building up to LEED standards,” Loeffler said. “That’s where my concerns and the concerns of sustainability-minded students lie.”

Just as students raised concerns over the new Davies Center in the early ‘2000s, students today are raising similar concerns over the Sonnentag Complex. With a proposed budget of $75 million, which will be partially funded by student segregated fees, the worry remains about how this may financially impact future students.