Questions about Lincoln Hall still uncertain

By Eric Heisig

Come next fall, the University will be without one of its most used and prominent buildings on campus.

With the long-awaited renovation of Lincoln Hall approaching its start date, the University is still in the process of figuring out how exactly the project will be completed, in addition to figuring out what to do with the people that occupy the building. This could leave the University in a bind of where to put classes normally held in Lincoln Hall.

The quest for money

The $70 million renovation project has still not received any funding from the state. If the Illinois House of Representatives passes the bills for the Illinois Works Higher Education program, the University will receive $55 million for the project.

The bills associated with the program have been passed by the Illinois Senate, but not by the House. The most recent action had to do with House Bill 2035, which includes the education program, being referred to the Rules Committee on Jan. 10.

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There are some on campus who are worried about what kind of strains this could put on the University, because the state money has not been approved yet.

“I think it is pretty obvious that Lincoln Hall needs renovations,” said Neil Baer, a graduate student. “However, I think the way the University is handling it is pretty poor, with no money guaranteed or anything.”

Still, Linda Katehi, provost and vice chancellor for Academic Affairs, has said the project will move forward whether the University receives the funding from the state or not.

“The more we delay the project, the more costly it becomes,” Katehi said.

Rick Schoell, executive director for governmental relations, said the state has said in the past it was going to provide the money for the project. It has been quite some time since Illinois has had a capital budget, and he said that this year is hopefully the year.

“We remain hopeful,” Schoell said. “Lincoln Hall is a top capital priority for U of I, has been for the last couple years, and we remain hopeful for funding.”

The renovation project is part of a larger program for a new energy policy the University is adopting. The plan is designed to reduce energy consumption around campus by 10 percent in the first year and 40 percent overall. Lincoln Hall will meet the new energy standard and be designed to consume less energy. Future buildings being renovated will also meet the new energy policy’s standards.

The mass move

The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences houses a number of its departmental offices in Lincoln Hall, and come next summer, they will have to all be moved to other locations.

One department that will feel the effect of the renovations is the Department of Speech Communication. The faculty, staff and graduate student offices are located in Lincoln Hall, and during the next few years the department will be scattered across campus.

Barbara Wilson, head of the Department of Speech Communication, said that while plans are still being decided on, the current one for the faculty and staff will be to move them into the Computing Applications Building, 605 E. Springfield Ave. The graduate students will likely be put into the new Social Work Building, on the corner of Oregon and Gregory streets. These two buildings are roughly one and a half miles away from each other.

“We will be physically separated from our graduate students, which is not good,” Wilson said. “That would be problematic. We wouldn’t mind being across the street from them, but this could be quite a distance.”

Wilson said that while nothing is set in stone, the department is still making a big push to be closer to its graduate students.

“I think about the typical undergrad that might have to go look for a faculty member or instructor,” Wilson said. “They would first have to go to the (Computing Applications Building), and if they aren’t there or they have to go see their (teaching assistant), they will have to go to the Social Work Building.”

Jason Rittenberg, a graduate student and vice president of the Speech Communication Graduate Student Association, said the distance will definitely be an issue for the department. He also said he is unsure about how its facilities will be in the new building, and whether they will be able to provide privacy between a teaching assistant and a student.

Baer said he is concerned about his department being broken up as well. Currently, the Department of Political Science is located in both Lincoln Hall and the English Building.

“The atmosphere of the department, with everything being in the same place and everyone being around, makes for a very productive but fun graduate experience,” Baer said. “With everyone spread out, we aren’t going to get that sort of interaction.”

Rittenberg said that teaching facilities may be a problem depending on where the graduate student offices for Speech Communication will be and what buildings their classes are assigned to. However, because nothing is finalized yet, he said he it is not an issue.

While the state giving the money to the University may still be in question, there is no question the building needs the renovations.

“Lincoln Hall desperately needs to be renovated,” Wilson said. “The building is really in a poor state. It is falling apart, and the classrooms are not what U of I students should expect. I am thrilled it is going to get renovated.”