Powerhouse of a project -- College unveils possible plans along the river

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From left; Studio Gang Principal Architect Jeanne Gang, mechanical engineer Sachin Anand, Beloit College volleyball head coach Dawn Redd and Dean of Students Christina Klawitter look at a model of the Powerhouse project. Beloit College updated the public on its preliminary plans for the project on Monday.

Beloit College’s proposed Powerhouse project will help tie the campus to the river, and its potential illuminated space on top of the structure could one day become an icon of Beloit.

In an event on Monday, representatives from Studio Gang Architects, the architecture firm charged with the transforming an old power plant into a student activity and recreation center, spoke about what amenities the Powerhouse could bring to students and the community.

Although the project is still in the brainstorming stages, there are plans for the space to include a pool and auditorium in the lower level, a student union, fitness area and study spaces on the main level and a glass-encased track which will be suspended through the structure.

With plenty of transparent walls, those swimming, running or studying may be able to view those engaged in learning, performing or socializing on other levels. The structure’s interior design is hoped to give the historic building kinetic energy, be reflective of Beloit College’s interdisciplinary landscape and play homage to Beloit’s resources such as the Rock River and the historic structure’s first unit built in 1913.

“Our goal has been to maintain the beautiful and heroic scope of the building,” said Jeanne Gang, Studio Gang Architects founder and principal.

The Powerhouse will be the potential end result of the institution’s goal to acquire and renovate Blackhawk Generating Station, the old power plant on Riverside Drive, into a state-of-the-art activity and recreation center. Blackhawk Generating Station has been closed since April of 2010.

“We will have three years to raise the money for the project. As soon as we complete fundraising, we expect we’ll need between 18 months to two years to complete the prep work and construction. The earliest we could open the building would be 2017,” Director of Communications and Marketing for Beloit College Jason Hughes said.

Hughes noted the original pricetag of $30 million is two years old and may need to be updated to account for new plans and inflation.

Following two years of negotiations, the Beloit College Board of Trustees approved a definitive purchase agreement on April 26 for its Powerhouse project, and Alliant Energy will be discussing the agreement soon. Beloit College will take ownership of the facility if it can raise the funds to construct the project, Hughes said.

During Monday’s event there was also some discussion about having a large open rectangular building which will be illuminated on top of the structure given its strong steel girders which could support the space.

“We could use the steel to hold something big and open above it,” Gang said. “It’s almost in the building’s DNA to have additions.”

Another option would be to have the illuminated building, which would be available for use by sports teams or for other large events, to be located adjacent to the structure.

Throughout the structure project architect Michan Walker said there will be fitness areas mixed with study areas for “pods of activity” mixed in with vibrant and open spaces. Spaces such as the historic boiler room, known as the “tube cube,” will become a seminar room. And Turbine Hall will become home to the student union where the historic coal hoppers will be visible.

In order to connect the residential and academic portions of campus to the new structure, there are tentative plans for a pedestrian bridge over Pleasant Street.

There is also the potential to one day connect the green space by adding tree plantings to a boulevard in the middle of the accompanying street to create traffic calming. There could also be a stream system and wetland area added to the site.

Hughes said Beloit College has been soliciting feedback from students and staff on the project. Those wishing to give input are invited to send an e-mail to terrarium@beloit.edu.

An architectural rending by Studio Gang Architects depicts what Alliant Energy's vacant Blackhawk Generation Station may look like inside when transformed into a new Activity and Recreation Center.

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