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Powerhouse Construction Update: Progress High and Low

March 13, 2019
By Dan Schooff

Powerhouse Auditorium
The Weissberg Auditorium will have
first-class theater level seating. Photo: Ziming Wu'20

As the Powerhouse project manager, I have a first-hand view of the rapid progress being made in the construction of this new campus resource. I also get to do things like give Professor Tamara Ketabgian’s English 257 class called Steam, Speed, and Modernity: Victorian and Neo-Victorian Literature, Culture, and Technology a tour and discuss the history of the building and how it might connect to the learning goals of their class.

The campus vision, achieved through our shared governance process, seeks to build a unique building in higher education -- this combined student union, recreation, and athletic center. It is meant not to compartmentalize each space but to create a building that allows our community to move from one part of their Beloit experience to another. In fact, the entire Powerhouse is meant to amplify what we do so well at Beloit -- teach and learn in and out of the classroom, interact with the community and world, and lean on each other -- students, faculty, staff, alumni, community members, etc. (Doing all this in a repurposed power plant with the new design being called out as the best in the world is just a bonus.)

Rapid progress

The Powerhouse is transformed each time I walk through this busy construction site. For example, the lower level includes incredible views up to the main turbine gallery and also has cozy nooks under the auditorium seating. It will house hang-out spaces for students, arcade games, pool tables, etc. Off of this hang-out space is the entrance to batting cages for our softball and baseball teams. In this area electrical, heating, and cooling equipment has been installed.

Our main floor, one floor up from street level, originally held the two 30 megawatt GE turbines and the massive boilers that made them spin. This turbine hall is intended to be the heart of our “great good place.” The floors are being filled in by our concrete team at CCI and will be side by side with the beautiful terra cotta tile installed in the 1940s. With a cafe, multipurpose rooms (with the original powerhouse dials and levers), and comfortable seating, we will achieve what the students, faculty, and staff who helped set out the purpose for the space were hoping for: comfortable, high quality space, that allows for authentic relationships to thrive. Our campus deserves this space -- and yes, the fact that we do have a Wisconsin winter each year, helps make the case for a warm, light-filled space.

The third and fourth floors, which are the track/fitness level and the multipurpose meeting and conference rooms, are next up for this team of intrepid construction workers.

Progress on new pool house

The rapid progress on the pool house has been exciting to see. Recent highlights include the 14-ton pool truss installation. The truss helps turn this 106 year-old portion of the Powerhouse from two rooms that originally housed boilers and turbines and quite literally lit up the campus and the community into a beautiful pool house that allows the Beloit swimming and diving team to thrive, and the campus community to swim laps and take part in other aquatic activities.

Because a key funding source for the project is state and federal historic tax credits, we are required to follow very stringent guidelines. In the pool house area, our architectural team (Studio Gang Architects of Chicago and Angus Young Architects of Janesville, Wis.) with guidance from our historic consulting firm (The Alexander Company of Madison) worked with the professionals at the State Historic Preservation Officer’s office and the National Park Service. They all listened carefully to our need for a new pool with an accessible entry and more lanes that are wider and deep enough for 1 and 3 meter diving boards.

This team of professionals, working together, arrived at a pool house that will be unique in the nation. The above-mentioned truss was designed by structural engineers at Angus Young and fabricated by Doral Steel of Milwaukee and installed by ironworkers working for Red Cedar Steel Erectors of Mequon, Wis. (See for yourself in this video by Bonnie Willison.) What you might not know from watching the video is that this is being attached to trusses that were installed in 1913. In fact, some of our historical research suggests that some of the Powerhouse building might be as old as 1906.

This new big a** truss sits on two columns that are next to three-foot sections of the old dividing wall. This historic echo was suggested by the professionals who work for the historic credit programs. To secure this funding, the regulations require that you don’t wipe out the history (makes sense right? - historic incentives prioritize history!).

Once the ironworkers had the truss and roof deck installed, the roofers came in to add a modern and energy efficient roof to the structure. The work has now begun to dig out the pool to provide the lanes where new records, new relationships, and new stories will be created.

We will bring you more updates throughout the construction. If you have questions, please do not hesitate to reach out to the team.


Learn more about the Powerhouse

The Powerhouse repurposes the decommissioned Blackhawk Generating Station on the Rock River into a 120,000-square-foot student center in every sense of the phrase. The Powerhouse will be a first-of-its-kind facility in the country—one that interlaces student life spaces with recreational facilities, further connects campus with the community, and preserves history while looking to the future.