RIVER FALLS -- Over the course of one year, River Falls has seen significant construction projects, improvements and physical changes which have contributed to growth and refacing in every direction within the city.
Take a look at an overview of some of the 2019 changes:
The April 2018 school district referendum gave way for $45 million in construction and remodels for six school buildings including the high school, Meyer middle school, Greenwood, Montessori, Rocky Branch and Westside elementaries. The referendum also allowed $2.1 million to be put toward new artificial turf and stadium lighting at the high school football field. Superintendent Jamie Benson and director of finance and facilities agreed the projects remain within budget and school staff have voiced their gratefulness for the community’s continued support.
New artificial turf was installed courtesy of an $850,000 grant the River Falls Baseball Council received for the First National Bank of River Falls baseball field at Hoffman Park. The ballpark was born in 2014 thanks to the work of volunteers and has hosted 130 amateur, high school, American Legion and youth baseball games each year. The field is now the first artificial turf baseball field in the area.
The $15.9 million repurposing of the Rodli Center into the Student Success Center on the University of Wisconsin-River Falls campus was approved in early 2019. The inside of the building is being entirely redone, and should be in use in January 2020. This facility will house student services like admissions, the career center, undergraduate research, the honors program, Falcon Scholars, the Center for Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging, financial aid, health and counseling, veterans services, tutoring services and more.
University of Wisconsin-River Falls’ May Hall dormitory has been under construction since July 2019 and will continue into August 2020. The plastic sheeting covering lobby construction was removed December 2019. Additions and renovations will include a lobby with a fireplace, an elevator, study rooms on each floor and basement common areas.
Glen Park shelter construction and landscape renovations were set to be completed at the end of 2019 for $4.4 million, which has remained on time and on budget save some extra asphalt layering and grass seeding work stalled by cold weather. The park now includes a splash pad and a new shelter with heating and air conditioning.
Housing developments cropped up throughout the city, including 80 single-family units and over 140 multi-family units approved or already filling within the limits. Some of these include The Depot, Campusview Birchcrest, High View Meadows fifth addition, Stirling Ponds first addition and The Aberdeen. “The housing development side of things is moving in River Falls whether its single family lots or multi-family,” development services director Amy Peterson said at a joint River Falls City Council-River Falls School Board meeting Aug. 12.
Anchor Paper came to town in early 2019, building a 87,500 square foot building in the Whitetail Ridge Corporate Park off Highway 35. “To pick River Falls was a big deal,” City Administrator Scot Simpson said.
Shopko closed for business in March while its optical remained open after moving in May 2019.
The city purchased the River Falls Journal building to be a new home for the police department, but Montessori Academy is holding school there during the 2019-2020 year while construction wraps up on the original academy building.
The city is implementing directional signs around town to further help visitors and residents navigate the city's buildings and destinations.
River Falls was the first Pierce County municipality to officially have been bitten by the emerald ash borer pest. In the coming months and years, the city is removing public property ash trees and aiding private property owners in removal. Eliminating most ash trees from the landscape before the trees become brittle and hazardous after losing nutrients because of the bug’s presence is a priority, according to city officials and city forester Nathan Croes.
A first-ever community discussion involving over 200 individuals and a handful of institutions, including schools and universities, came together in late 2019 to share a review of environmentally responsible decisions already made and brainstorm ways the community could do life more sustainably.
The council approved and announced Oct. 22 they are the first city in Wisconsin to be running all city buildings on 100% renewable energy, a plan effective Jan. 1, 2020.
With what has been happening in River Falls, community members should not expect to see the city stalling future growth.
“We are not planning to rest, 2019 wasn’t an anomaly. 2020 will be another year of growth,” Simpson said.