University could receive funding for Lincoln Hall

By Se Young Lee

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

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, request $53.1 million in capital appropriation – approximately 83 percent of the total costs for renovations, or $66.4 million.

University administrators applauded the decision, stating that the funding was a crucial need for the University.

“The governor’s budget recommendation is welcome news for public higher education in Illinois and for the University of Illinois, which would put the increased funding to good use in maintaining the excellence on our three campuses that 70,000 students and their families expect and deserve,” University President White said in an e-mail statement.

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    University Trustee David Dorris said the proposed funds would be put to good use.

    “Good for Rod, I’m proud of him,” Dorris 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, are enrolled. The college is the largest instructional unit on campus.

    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 Jan. 19 report 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. 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.

    University administration first made a capital budget request for renovating the building for Fiscal Year 2000, asking for $9.1 million. But the University has not yet received funding.

    Tom Hardy, University spokesperson, said funding for capital projects from the state has been hard to come by in the recent years because of the state’s financial troubles.

    “A lot of projects have been standing by waiting for capital authorization,” he said. “That is primarily a function of the fact that the state was in a fiscal crisis in the early part of this decade.”

    Local representatives of the General Assembly and University administrators expressed optimism about the proposed funding but cautioned that the proposal does not guarantee funding.

    “What you saw was the governor’s proposal,” said State Rep. Naomi Jakobsson, D-Urbana. “Now as legislator, one of my jobs is to review the budget and ask the tough questions.”

    “Just because (Blagojevich) put it in there does not mean it will be there,” said Illinois State Senator Michael Frerichs of the 52nd district, which includes Champaign County. “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.”

    Dorris said the University’s Board of Trustees has full-time legislative staffers working in Springfield who will take on the responsibility of working to pass the appropriations through the General Assembly but added that any of the trustees would do whatever they could to influence legislators to pass them.

    White echoed Dorris’ comments in his statement.

    “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,” he said.

    Ryan Davis and Kathleen Foody contributed to this report.