Lack of funds stall Lincoln renovations

By Eric Chima and Acton Gorton

Ever since the graduate students in speech communication were moved to the basement of Lincoln Hall more than five years ago, they have had to deal with falling pieces of plaster and flooding during the summer. They have gone without hot water or air conditioning, and even had to snare a bat that made its way to the depths of the building. So when a planned renovation of Lincoln Hall meant moving the graduate students to the Natural History Building, they got excited. Now, though, a stall in state funds could delay the renovation indefinitely.

After receiving $2 million in 2004 to begin planning the renovation, the University expected $3 million more in 2005, said Randy Kangas, the Assistant Vice President of Planning and Budget. But the Illinois General Assembly was unable to free up any capital for the project, Kangas said, and the University will receive nothing this year.

“During the summer they did not have any capital, and we were hoping that some would be available after the veto sessions, but there wasn’t money for anything,” Kangas said.

State Senator Rick Winkel, a University alumnus, said Gov. Rod Blagojevich had personally promised him the funds will be made available for the renovations.

“I’m still optimistic the governor will make good on his promise,” said state Sen. Winkel. “These things take time … I will be relentless.”

Sen. Winkel said the delays were caused in part by a conflict between the governor and Speaker of the House Michael Madigan over where capital funding would come from.

Kangas said he was hopeful that money would be allocated to the renovation for next year when Gov. Blagojevich releases his 2006 budget today. But even if the governor recommends giving funds to it, there is no guarantee they will come through, said campus architect Clifford Carey.

“There have been a number of capital lists that have seen approval but we’ve never seen the funds released for,” Carey said. “We have projects on a list that came out of the state 15 months ago that we haven’t seen funds from.”

The full cost of renovating Lincoln Hall would be near $52 million, Kangas said. He said the work would ideally start by the summer of 2007.

Fixing the building has been one of the top campus priorities for several years, Kangas said. It sees the third most classroom hours of any building on campus, and still has all the original systems from when it was built in the early 1900s.

In the basement, broken desks and chairs are piled outside the grad students’ office. Exposed pipes hang from the ceiling, less than six feet above the ground, and deeper in the tunnels, a sign even warns of asbestos.

“We need space for the graduate students, the building isn’t very functional, and it’s in desperate need of repair,” said Dale Brashers, Director of Graduate Studies in speech communication.

Brashers said the graduate students would likely be moved sometime before the renovation is complete, but that there was no time frame for it. Some of the graduate students, like Megan Connelly, said they were worried about their current environment.

“We joke about lead being in the water and asbestos in the walls,” Connelly said. “I try not to even drink from the water fountain down here.”

Throughout the building, paint peels from the cracked walls, the floor is chipped and a hodgepodge of different-sized desks is covered in graffiti.

“We make sure buildings are as safe as they can be,” Carey said. “But we couldn’t build a building like Lincoln Hall today.”

The longer the project is delayed, the more work will be required, Carey said. But a government that cannot allocate $3 million for planning will have a hard time finding $52 million for the full project, he said.

“We’d be pleased to get the money, but I wouldn’t say we’re expecting it,” Carey said.

“I graduated in 1979, and I know the building hasn’t been renovated since I left,” Winkel said. “We need to keep the humanities strong as well as engineering.”

The University was planning a full gutting of Lincoln Hall with the exception of the historical elements of the building, Carey said. If the funds do not come through from the state, the University will still try to improve the site.

“If we’re unsuccessful in getting an epic project through, we’ll look for other means at achieving our ultimate goal, which is helping keep Lincoln Hall a campus landmark for years to come,” Carey said.