Lincoln Hall renovation among projects in proposed $31 billion capital plan

By Kathleen Foody

Illinois state officials, including the governor and leaders of both legislative chambers, have endorsed passage of a capital plan issued last week with a $31 billion price tag.

Gov. Rod Blagojevich, Senate President Emil Jones, Senate Minority Leader Frank Watson and House Minority Leader Tom Cross announced their approval of the plan drafted by the governor’s Illinois Works coalition which would give the state its first capital bill in nine years.

Projects identified for the coalition by the Illinois Board of Higher Education include several components at the Champaign-Urbana campus. Among the recommendations are funds for the renovation of Lincoln Hall.

The building has not been remodeled since 1930 and is technologically out of date, Randall Kangas, assistant vice principal for planning and budgeting said last week. The recommendations allocate $55 million for the project.

A $206 million grant provided by the National Science Foundation for the University to engineer the world’s fastest computer cannot be put into action until the University-based National Center for Supercomputing Applications can provide a facility for the project. The plan suggests providing the center with $60 million to fund the Petascale computing facility.

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    The plan also allocates $400 million for maintenance projects deferred while funds were lacking. The cost has been placed on students through tuition by universities across Illinois.

    The funding for the projects listed in the plan is dependent on passage of alternatives that have struggled in the Illinois legislature: Expansion of gaming including a Chicago casino and electronic gaming at racetracks and leading the state lottery.

    Lawmakers are facing a Saturday deadline before going into overtime session and have yet to pass a state budget.

    Blagojevich said he isn’t linking the two issues but believes they can both get done by this weekend. He wouldn’t say how that might happen.

    There is still hope a budget could be passed by the deadline, said Steve Brown, press secretary for state House Speaker Michael Madigan.

    “I don’t think anyone has an interest in recreating the mess the governor made last year,” he said. “That was a waste …of people, keeping them there all summer.”

    An invitation wasn’t extended to Madigan to formally endorse the plan, Brown said. He added that it was not surprising consider the pressure the governor is under, but the speaker has been supportive of a capital plan and at least three different proposals including the coalition’s.

    Several bills have been put into position that could be amended to include a capital plan, Brown said, but Republican support would be necessary in the House where Democrats are not seated in high enough numbers for passage.

    The committee was co-chaired by former Speaker of the U.S. House Dennis Hastert and Southern Illinois President Glenn Poshard.

    “I am absolutely convinced that this state cannot wait a single day longer for a capital construction bill,” Poshard said in a press release Wednesday. “We need to put people to work, we need to secure our position as this nation’s transportation hub and we need to access the federal transportation funds secured in a bipartisan effort by Former Speaker Hastert and our congressional delegation.”

    The Associated Press and staff writer Renee Chacko contributed to this report