Evers’ budget proposes Cofrin Library demolition, rebuild
By Heather Graves
GREEN BAY – It’s hard to miss the David A. Cofrin Library, the heart of the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay which towers over campus, but that could soon change.
A plan working its way through Madison calls for the demolition of the eight-story building, and a new, innovative $96.3 million library to be built in its place.
The project is part of Gov. Tony Evers’ 2021-23 proposed biennial budget.
“The UW Campuses are the economic drivers of the state,” Evers said at UW-Green Bay Wednesday, March 7. “As we come out of the pandemic, we need to Build Back Better with a major investment in technology and higher education. Investing in both is critically important and will help us bounce back faster and better.”
Benjamin Joniaux, special assistant to the chancellor for external relations said this project has been in the works for many years, but is coming to fruition now.
“As part of the 2021-23 capital budget as presented by Gov. Evers, there is a project enumeration for the Cofrin Technology and Research Center for $96 million,” said Joniaux.“The plan would be to tear down the current Cofrin Library and replace it with a new building.”
Joniaux cites the building’s structure as the driving force behind the project – describing it as poor, deteriorating and unstable.
According to a study conducted last spring by the UW System, renovations to the structure opened in 1972 would not be cost efficient and would still result in a compromised facility.
“Not only is the aging Cofrin Library in major disrepair, it does not reflect the current view of how our future students will receive higher education,” said Chancellor Michael Alexander. “With a cost to renovate nearly as much as the cost to replace, the time is right to look to the future and provide the experience we need to serve a growing university.”
The project made it through the first step of the process, the State Building Commission, and up next is the Joint Finance Committee.
“This year the State Building Commission did not make a recommendation to the Joint Finance Committee,” Joniaux said. “So the Joint Finance Committee will be making the final recommendations to the governor.”
If approved by the Joint Finance Committee, the project will make its way to the Assembly and Senate floors and could ultimately go to the governor’s desk for a signature.
“The budget is technically due by June 30, but the process could go longer,” Joniaux said. “That being said, we anticipate that the vote on if Cofrin is included or not included in the budget will be held late-spring to early summer.”
The Cofrin Library is home to a collection of more than 1 million items.
The Special Collections Department contains historical records of Northeastern Wisconsin, genealogical records and a local business archives collection.
“All current functions of the current building would take place in a new building,” Joniaux said. “The new building would not be a high rise and have less square feet than the current building. It would have more flexible space and collaborative space than the current configuration.”
As far as a timeline, that depends on the next few months and if the proposal proceeds.
“We anticipate that final designs for the building would begin immediately after the budget is signed,” he said.
Joniaux said so far the response in regards to the Confrin project has been positive.
“Anyone who has visited the campus recently has been able to see firsthand that the building is out-of-date,” he said.
The UWGB library project is one of several proposed construction projects for the UW-System included in the governor’s budget proposal.
Other projects include a $117 million Science and Technology Innovation Center at UW-River Falls, $96 million to replace Albertson Hall at UW-Stevens Point and $93 million for the Prairie Springs Science Center at UW-La Crosse.
“It’s important to recognize that more than half of the University of Wisconsin System’s buildings were built in the 19050s-70s, and many now require significant repair and renovation work to ensure continued safety as well as to support continued excellence in teaching, learning and research on our UW campuses,” said Tommy Thompson, UW System interim president, at the Senate Committee on Universities and Technical Colleges hearing late last week.