Funding proposed for Lincoln Hall renovations

Campus and community members gather at the Alice Campbell Alumni Center to watch a televised speech by Governor Rod Blagojevich outlining his proposals for the fiscal 2008 budget. This was one of 15 sites across the state where people were invited to wat ME Online

By Se Young Lee

The University might finally get the state funding to begin renovations of Lincoln Hall.

Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s proposed capital budget for the Fiscal Year 2008 calls for $55.1 million to renovate the historic building.

Should the General Assembly approve the budget submitted by Blagojevich, the University would be receiving more than what it had asked for. Current plans for renovating the building, approved by the University Board of Trustees on Jan. 19, requests $53.1 million in capital appropriation – approximately 83 percent of the total costs for renovations.

“The governor believes this will be an important investment in the University’s future,” said Justin DeJong, spokesman for the governor’s Office of Management and Budget. “This would be a capital project subject to approval of the governor’s capital program.”

When asked why the budget allocated more funds than requested to the Lincoln Hall renovation, DeJong said he would have to do further research into the matter.

University President B. Joseph White issued a statement Wednesday and said the recommendations are “welcome news.”

“The University of Illinois will work with the governor and state legislators to secure approval for the recommended higher education appropriation and capital budget, and to share our research-based expertise as the state addresses the many challenges it faces,” White said in the statement. “Public higher education is clearly a priority for the administration and the legislature, and the U. of I. is committed to fulfilling our part of the public compact by providing an affordable and accessible college education, world-class innovation and research, and results-oriented public service.”

The Board has full-time legislative staffers working in Springfield, and they will take on the responsibility of working to pass the appropriations through the General Assembly, but any of the trustees would do whatever they could to influence legislators to pass them, Trustee David Dorris of Bloomington said.

“Good for Rod, I’m proud of him,” he said. “Of course there are other projects, but this is the one I think everybody thought was the most crying need to start with.”

Lincoln Hall houses the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences in which about 15,121 undergraduate students, or 48.9 percent of all undergraduates at the University, are enrolled. It is the largest instructional unit on campus, according to a report submitted to the Board of Trustees discussing the renovation plans.

The western half of the building, according to the report, was built in 1911, and the eastern half was built in 1930. Since then, the building has undergone no major reconstruction, with its internal structure essentially untouched for more than seven decades. The building’s dilapidated state, plagued with myriad problems ranging from poor ventilation and a leaky roof to encounters with possums and squirrels, has been well-documented. The building was named one of the 10 most endangered landmarks in Illinois in 2005 by the Landmarks Preservation Council of Illinois.

The report also stated that the renovations will upgrade the building systems and infrastructure as well as reconfiguring the available space to meet the needs of the LAS College. The plans also call for reduction of about 25,000 square feet in the facility.

“Our plan is to restore the shell of the building and then turn the inside into space that meets the demands of a 21st-century university with 21st-century students,” said White during a July 10, 2006 press conference. Also announced was appropriation of $3 million by the State of Illinois Capital Development Board for planning and design work for the renovations in addition to the $2 million appropriated in Fiscal Year 2002.

University administration first made a capital budget request for renovating the building for Fiscal Year 2000, asking for $9.1 million. The project moved up to the top of the University’s list of individual projects for the Fiscal Year 2004, and has been considered one of the top six projects in need of funding by the Illinois Board of Higher Education since Fiscal Year 2005.

The board approved a plan in April 2006 to create a $250 per semester fee to address deferred maintenance costs for all three campuses, which hold about 300 buildings combined. Costs for necessary repairs have been estimated to be about $617 million, according to the Jan. 19 report submitted to the board. Approximately $6.3 million will be raised from this fee to support renovation of Lincoln Hall.

State Representative William B. Black, R-Danville, also introduced State House Bill HB0627 Feb. 6, which called for appropriation of $25 million “or so much of that amount as may be necessary” to the University for renovating Lincoln Hall. But the bill was referred to the Rules Committee on the same day it was introduced, then assigned to the Higher Education Appropriations Committee two days later. State Representative Naomi Jakobsson, D-Urbana, later became a chief co-sponsor of the bill Feb. 20.

State Senator Mike Frerichs, D-52nd, said state funding for Lincoln Hall was very needed but that much work needs to be done in the General Assembly before the proposal becomes a reality.

“Just because (Blagojevich) put it in there does not mean it will be there,” Frerichs said. “There are a lot of people with very different priorities. I think there’s going to be a big showdown over those priorities, who wins. But I am going to work very hard to make sure the capital plan is part of the budget.

“I feel very confident that Lincoln Hall will be properly funded, but we still have a long way to go and I anticipate many more months of negotiations before we pass the budget.”

Katie Foody and Ryan Davis contributed to this report