While the redevelopment of the overall Park East Freeway corridor remains on hold, the east end of the spur will soon have an anchor with the Milwaukee School of Engineering’s Kern Center.
MSOE, Uihlein/Wilson Architects and Hunzinger Construction Co. have been working feverishly to ensure that construction of the Kern Center will be finished by Oct. 1, when the school is scheduled to open its new student health and recreation complex.
The $31 million Kern Center, located at the intersection of Broadway, Market and Knapp streets, will not only be the first recreational facility MSOE has had in its 101 years, but it also will become the first completed development in the Park East corridor.
"We would like to think it sets a good tone for the rest of the Park East corridor," said David Uihlein Jr., president of Uihlein/Wilson Architects, the Milwaukee firm that designed the Kern Center. "It is a low-rise, with institutional character, and I think it should fit in quite nicely with what the city proposes for the rest of the Park East."
The five-level, 210,000-square-foot facility will house a hockey arena, a basketball arena, classrooms for research projects, at least 20 offices for athletic administration and student counseling services, a fieldhouse, a wrestling facility, a fitness area and underground parking for 50 vehicles, according to Hermann Viets, president of MSOE.
"We have a high demand for that kind of facility. There are more than 2,000 people on campus," said Viets. "Also, students coming from high school have every expectation of a first-class facility, and exercise is probably more important now than it ever was in the past."
Viets said the center will not be open to the public until the school can assess the usage by the students, staff and alumni first.
Viets has hopes of increased support for the MSOE NCAA Division III basketball and hockey teams, which will play in the Kern Center across the street from the school’s dorms next season, instead of at the old Cathedral High School gymnasium and The Ponds In Brookfield, where the school has rented space for several years.
"I also think we can encourage something like dinner and a show, where if someone wants to eat dinner on Water Street and then go to a game, a discount will be available," Viets said.
Construction of the Kern Center has had only one five-day delay so far, according to Viets, when the concrete parking lot was removed and the construction crew found a large amount of coal ash buried underground.
"There have been some challenges, but it is always challenging to build a very complex structure in the midst of an urban environment," Viets said.
Uihlein said the design of the facility was difficult as well, given that MSOE wanted so many uses for such limited space.
"It is endeavoring to put large blocks of recreational space on a small site, and the component that allows us to both make space and to do something out of the architectural norm is the elliptical element," Uihlein said. "The elliptical element is all glass with a sloped roof. It will be the cornerstone, the gateway from northern downtown, the beacon of northern downtown."
Uihlein said the elliptical glass facade that will face Broadway Street is not an architectural trick, but has more to do with having to fit a 160-meter track inside the building. Uihlein said the building barely fit on the site, and the design team had to cantilever the north end of it over the street.
Uihlein/Wilson Architects have been working with MSOE as campus planners since the early-1990s to create a structure that provides a cohesive campus with architectural unity and serves the needs of the students.
"The design responds to the architecture of the campus and to the program and image that MSOE wants to project," Uihlein said.
MSOE’s educational attributes include personalized instruction with small classes and several laboratories, Viets said. Although the Kern Center will help MSOE with new student recruitment, Viets said MSOE is only looking for a modest increase in its enrollment.
"We are well-placed to respond to any demand or growth in student population," said Viets. "The two areas that dictate the population size are the student center and the gym. After that, you can add incrementally. You can always add another dorm or classroom. We are poised for small growth, but we like the way we are."
The center is named for Robert and Patricia Kern and is privately funded, in part by The Robert and Patricia Kern Foundation and Dr. Eckhart and Ischi Grohmann.
Azco Integrated Construction, Menasha, a structural steel erector company, recently put the last steel beam needed for the Kern Center in place, marking the end of the steel construction phase in a topping-off ceremony on March 1.
"Now, seeing the Kern Center in the ground, it is even bigger and more beautiful than expected. It is always nice to see how design transforms from paper to concrete and glass," Viets said. "The design is beautiful but dramatic and functional, which is the best kind of combination. David Uihlein and his firm have done a wonderful job."
March 5, 2004 Small Business Times, Milwaukee