The Wisconsin National Guard Challenge Academy dedicated its newly renovated academic/multipurpose facility, building 751, during an Aug. 9 ceremony at Fort McCoy. The facility will serve as a focal point for the program that helps at-risk youth turn their lives around.
The mission of the Challenge Academy program is to intervene in and reclaim the lives of 16-18 year old high school dropouts or those at risk of dropping out to produce program graduates with the values, life skills, education, and self-discipline necessary to succeed as productive citizens.
Keith Krueger, acting Challenge Academy director, said the 14-month renovation project took the structure down to its skeleton frame. The facility now has upgraded and modern insulation, dry wall, flooring, siding, doors, windows, and a heating, ventilation and air conditioning system.
"The existing building met the needs of the cadets," Krueger said. "It provided a place for cadets to embrace education, a meeting place for mentors and parents, and served as a hub for the majority of our daily events. Over the years, the building slowly wore down."
With the support of the Fort McCoy Command Group and in conjunction with the Directorate of Public Works (DPW), the academy and its staff were able to see the facility receive Fort McCoy's version of a home makeover.
"Together we will continue to ensure the youth of Wisconsin have a safe environment to make positive choices to become successful, responsible citizens," Krueger said.
Fort McCoy Garrison Commander Col. Steven W. Nott also addressed the audience at the dedication ceremony.
"We will dedicate (the facility) as a modern academic hall that also will serve as a multipurpose facility for presentations, seminars and more," Nott said. "These improvements certainly are going to enhance what's already a proven success story here at the Challenge Academy."
The opportunities that people have throughout their lives are based far more on how they are respected, admired and trusted than on any other criteria, he said. By observing and living a moral code, cadets can identify who their true friends are and establish a bond with them that is stronger than steel.
The cadets in class 29, as have those in previous classes, will have opportunities with the cadre, faculty, facility and volunteers to improve their life skills and education, Nott said. Although much of their success will be determined by their willingness to study, work and listen, only the cadets, themselves, can decide if they are willing to change their cultural norms to acceptable levels of discipline and what values they will use to guide their lives.
"Now embrace the challenge of change," Nott said. "Reflect on why you volunteered to come here. Adopt a culture of self-imposed discipline and value-centered decision making. These are goals we all can live by."
The process to renovate the facility began in May 2009 when the Challenge Academy contacted the DPW and indicated the facility was in need of major renovation, said Liane Haun, chief of the Fort McCoy DPW Planning Division.
DPW proposed a scope of work, and the project was added to the fiscal year 10/11 Construction Acquisition Management Plan for design and execution.
The project was awarded in May 2011 to MDM Construction Supply, LLC from Rockford, lll., as a design/build project. The project also included a new fire alarm and fire suppression system, replacement of flooring, and upgrades to the bathroom to handle the capacity of the building to meet codes, Haun said. The work was completed earlier this year.
Nott said the building has had a colorful 70-year history. It was built as part of the 1942 Cantonment Area construction. Over the years, the facility has served as Service Club 3 (during World War II), as an Exchange for the east side of the cantonment area, and as an Arts and Crafts facility before the Challenge Academy took over the building in 1998.
The facility will continue to support the academy's academic needs. Krueger said the facility also has served as host to a number of motivational guest speakers, who have shared their often inspirational life stories with the cadets, including Miss America (Heather French), members of the Green Bay Packers, etc.