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A Central Gathering Spot Has Been Missing for More than 30 Years for Beloit College Students

Is it really true that the Beloit College’s Student Union Powerhouse is here and open? The Powerhouse is the now decommissioned Blackhawk Generating Station on the Rock River in the small town of Beloit, Wis. It houses many activities, from fitness to study rooms and arcade game stations. It has taken many years for the Powerhouse to finally open as the dates and years were constantly changing, but the senior class of 2020 finally gets to experience it for the first 16 weeks. I have used the Powerhouse almost every day since opening day in late January of 2020, and see that this place will be the new student center hub for the next 30 years because of the accessible space that allows all students to enjoy a fun environment with their peers. 

Before the Powerhouse, the student union was once a Generating Station power plant. The building sits as a historical site built around the mid-1900s, fueling the World War II boom in construction and industrial development. Many power plants are erased to allow for more green space, but not this one that has been sitting on the outskirts of the college’s campus. When the college realized there was a decline in student enrollment, they needed something to attract them. They needed a special place for their students to gather, socially, academically, and athletically. While the power plant was sitting vacant for many years and companies were thinking of ways to use it again, the college worked on an agreement to make it useful for their students. They decided to make it a student center while keeping the most prominent structural pieces of the building, such as the smokestacks that are no longer running. 

Although the Powerhouse is not officially completed, there are great amenities for the entire campus community and the city to enjoy. The fitness center, filled with new cardio machines, free-weights and free fitness classes for all ages and levels that are offered every week are great attractions for those Fitbit chasers. I especially enjoy participating in Jillian’s Zumba and Tabata classes on Monday evenings along with cycling with Paul and Eveyln during the week because of the open spaces, equipment and overall camaraderie that comes with new places. Near the end of the college’s swim team’s 2019-2020 season, the swimming pool was one of the first amenities open. The team was able to enjoy their last home meet in the new chlorine-filled pool overlooking the sunset on the Rock River. 

Besides the fitness addition, a new arcade-style gaming center sits in the basement of the Powerhouse. Students are able to enjoy an intense game of table tennis, pool, and shuffleboard for those old-timers. Try a hand at the shuffleboard. I have made new friends playing the game because everyone wants to learn the new game in the house. There are also video games available for gamers who are able to play out of their stuffy dorm room with other gamers alike. The Powerhouse is a very open structure allowing the cheering of students in the basement to be echoed throughout the three floors. 

Lastly, the third great amenity about the Powerhouse is the structure itself. The windows stretch large enough to cast the shadows of students and workers during dawn and dusk. It creates a good study vibe for students who use the study lounges and reading nooks located on the first and second floors. The library might start to disappear in your schedule as you become more enticed to study in the sunny lounges. I know it has for me. 

Is the Powerhouse really open? I don’t see the fieldhouse yet; I don’t see doors or elevators working either. These are just some of the concerns many Beloit College students critique their new gathering place. Beloit students are very particular about their needs, and one that has recently set students off is the “new” Java Joint and DKs. Hamiltons, the new Java Joint, is located on the second floor of the Powerhouse including fresher and newer ingredients and food than the Java Joint that was located in the basement of Pearsons. On the opening day of Hamiltons, students complained about the missing Java Joint, and breakfast at DKs. They also began criticizing the hours that have been cut from adult workers and their peers. Many students who are on the meal plan complained about how the food at Hamiltons is worse; some complained about how much more expensive it is, and others complained about how much further they have to walk from the academic side of campus, with only having sometimes as little as ten minutes between classes. Some students who are not on the meal plan, like me, are eager to check out Hamiltons’ menu as there are more options for food than Java Joint, but prices seem to be a little too high for them. Once the convenience store opens, I, along with other students, will be taking advantage of the food that will be offered.

Besides Hamiltons being a big downfall for students, the fieldhouse and track are still not up and running. The fieldhouse is still under construction, along with the unregulated track. Track student-athletes are eager to start running on it for practice even though only half of the track is built. 

Students of Beloit College are very surprised their student union is here, as many current seniors were promised it would be opened their junior year. Alumni from the past eight years have been told it was going to open when they were seniors, and yet, here we are. They have left empty-handed, while the current 2020 class is finally experiencing less than 16 weeks of this student union.

Although the Powerhouse is not a typical student union for colleges because of the preservation of the historical building, there is still room for this place to grow into a student-centered space. As the years go on, students will begin to call it theirs and design wall space for themselves, implementing a new form of communication. Hamiltons will be more popular and students will understand the need for a change soon. The Powerhouse is a place for prospective students to grab onto as they begin their search for a new “home.” I believe the Beloit College community will really begin to engage with this historical site for the next 30 years as it shares the unique beauty inside and out.

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