Student Affairs to retain control of Assembly Hall

By Se Young Lee

After months of discussion over the control of Assembly Hall, the University’s Office of the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs will remain responsible for managing and maintaining the multipurpose arena.

The controversy over the fate of the Assembly Hall emerged into public view on Oct. 19 when the Illinois Student Senate unanimously passed an executive order opposing University Chancellor Richard Herman’s inclination to transfer the facility’s control to the Division of Intercollegiate Athletics. The notion for the change first emerged in a November 2003 report by the Assembly Hall Review Committee, commissioned by former Chancellor Nancy Cantor, which proposed the transfer on the basis that only the athletics department has the ability to raise the necessary funds for renovations.

Josh Rohrscheib, co-president of the Illinois Student Senate, said the transfer could result in the loss of diversity and quality of the entertainment programming, the decline in student input and possibility of increases in student fees.

“With DIA there is one group of students with access to the administrators – the athletic board,” Rohrscheib said. “We have much more open access to student affairs.”

University Chancellor Richard Herman told the News-Gazette on Dec. 2 that he initially wanted to make the transfer happen but that he changed his mind after talking with students about the matter.

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    “I thought about it, and if I can ensure planning for renovation begins now … we can dispense with the idea of a transfer and diminish (the students’) concerns,” Herman told the News-Gazette.

    University spokeswoman Robin Kaler said the chancellor determined that it would take several years to come up with a formal renovation plan, and that there was no need for the transfer to occur right now.

    “He made the decision because he felt that students made a compelling argument about maintaining the rich and diverse programming at Assembly Hall,” Kaler said. “They were very concerned about their needs and accountability, and he listened.”

    “From the beginning, it was clear that Chancellor Herman wanted to make the transfer,” Klitzing said. “But as he had more discussions with students, you could see a gradual change in his opinions. I think more than anything he just saw almost all students were opposed to the change.”

    Assembly Hall, a University-owned building that opened in 1963, has gone through various facelifts and renovations throughout the years. Kevin Ullestad, director of Assembly Hall, said the most recent renovations project, which occurred in 1998, spent $12 million to add more spacing in the backstage area for dressing rooms, dining facilities, storage areas, load-ing ramps and office space.

    Gene Barton, associate vice chancellor for student affairs, said the University commissioned Ellerbe Becket Architects & Engineers Inc., a Minneapolis firm, to conduct a study in 2002 to extend the facility’s lifespan by 25 to 30 years. The study looked at making several changes, including greater access to patrons with disabilities to all levels and sections through installation of elevators and ramps to make the building, partly to be in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act standards. Other changes included improving the congestion in the corridors, increasing capacity for the bathrooms, improving the utility system, increasing areas for concessions and installing an air-conditioning system. The study estimated the renovations to cost between $61.9 million to $66.8 million.

    “I think it’s quite clear that this is something not to be done through student fees,” Kaler said. “That’s something that is not a rational, reasonable approach, and it’s quite clear that we need external assistance.”

    Ullestad stressed that the renovations were necessary to keep the Assembly Hall, a valuable asset to the campus and the community, up to date.

    “We’re really taking a strong look in the long run what needs to be done,” Ullestad said. “Not every campus has Foo Fighters, Dave Matthews Band, Weezer, Rascal Flatts and Nine Inch Nails. We’re committed to bringing the best concerts to the campus and the community.”