RIVER FALLS — What was once the province of lunch tray-toting students has undergone a transformation into what University of Wisconsin-River Falls leaders hope stands as a beacon to prospective and current students.

Melissa Wilson remembers going to David Rodli Hall for meals when she was a UWRF undergraduate. She now heads career services at the university, one of 14 departments housed in the reborn Rodli building.

“It’s definitely a transformation,” Wilson said. “For someone who was in the building previously, they won’t believe their eyes.”

An open house event commemorating the renovation is set for 2-4:30 p.m. Feb. 3.

Visitors will find few relics of the past inside the remodeled Rodli Hall, which campus officials said will serve a multitude of services with the common goal of student success.

After crossing a large university seal outside Rodli’s Sixth Street entryway, visitors can either go left to the admissions office or right to career services. Campus planner Dale Braun said the two offices’ locations symbolize the beginning of the college journey and the eventual launch into the working world.

“This is intentional,” Braun said of the design, calling student success “the guiding light” behind the project.

Elsewhere in Rodli, visitors will find the Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging, International Education and Financial Aid departments — to name just a few — while a central coffee shop sits at the base of a staircase that conjures a modern vision of the older iteration’s stairway system.

The building, which underwent a $15.9 million remodeling, now houses 14 departments that, until now, had been scattered around the campus. Alan Symicek, the university’s executive director of facilities management, said it made more sense for students to have them under one roof than in individual silos.

Interim Associate Vice Chancellor for Academic Excellence and Student Success Kathleen Hunzer said that’s been accomplished.

“It’s amazing,” she said. “This just brings us all together.”

Wilson called that an exciting aspect. If someone’s getting advice at her Career Services office, and that conversation leads to questions about financial aid, counseling or wellness, “I can really quickly walk them to that place.”

‘Get people together’

The new Rodli building completes a years-long effort to establish a central welcome space for students. Braun said that began with the realignment of East Cascade Avenue, which added roundabouts, including one at Sixth Street.

That curve carries visitors to Rodli on the east side of the street — where parking stalls marked for “Future Falcons” fill the adjoining lot — and the university’s new gateway features near Centennial Hall on the west side, which set the scene for the iconic campus mall.

Brick pedestals bearing the University of Wisconsin-River Falls seal form a gateway to the campus mall. Mike Longaecker / RiverTown Multimedia
Brick pedestals bearing the University of Wisconsin-River Falls seal form a gateway to the campus mall. Mike Longaecker / RiverTown Multimedia

The first floor showcases two of the building’s primary offices: admissions and career services, while a large meeting room tucked between those departments can hold up to 50 people for group campus visits or other events.

Just behind the meeting room is Cafe 74, which Chancellor Dean Van Galen explained is a nod to the university’s founding in 1874.

If the first floor seems more spacious, that’s not a figment of the imagination. Braun said 18 inches of concrete was removed from the floor to gain more ceiling height.

Green Bay-based Somerville Architects and Engineers was responsible for the design, while Eau Claire-based Market & Johnson served as general contractor for the project.

“I think they did a wonderful job putting this together,” Braun said.

Visitors can take alternating stairways to the second story, where the northern staircase leads to a shot of Glen Park’s swinging bridge. Meanwhile, a massive art piece depicting the meandering Kinnickinnic River hangs above the coffee shop, creating a centerpiece for the space.

From there, students can access second-story departments. Both floors have kitchenettes, where Braun said students might mingle over food.

He said “socializing elements” were integral in devising the layout at Rodli, which includes fireplaces on both levels.

“That’s the whole idea, is to get people together,” he said.

Collaboration spaces are scattered throughout the building; university leaders said the hope is students will seize on those spaces for group projects. One such space within the Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging area features a station with a video screen for students to work on multimedia projects.

Braun said future plans call for a falcon sculpture to be placed at the building. He said the aim is to create a talisman for students seeking good fortune, perhaps to “touch the toes of the statue for good luck,” as is seen at the Wisconsin Capitol’s badger statue.

“These,” Braun said, “are the kinds of common points of the culture that help build a belonging and a sense of community on campus.”