Construction, preservation of historic Lincoln Hall almost half done

With a little over a year left before Lincoln Hall re-opens, University officials say the project is about forty percent done.

The project is employing both restoration and reconstruction in the process. The goal is to maintain the historically significant portions of the building, such as the Lincoln Hall Theater and the marble foyer, while also updating the building’s classrooms and office spaces.

Everything on the first floor, from the plaque of the Gettysburg Address to the iconic bust of Honest Abe, will be fully restored and cleaned. The green paint in the foyer will be removed to allow the original paint job, a gold design, to shine through.

Though some degradation will remain, for the most part, things that can be improved will be. The building’s heating and ventilation system was gutted and reinstalled, which is one way the building will conserve energy as part of its sustainability goal.

One notable addition is the cafe to be built in the basement below the theater. One of the most significant additions will be the remodeling of the building’s two courtyards. Before the project, these spaces were virtually unused, but the construction team is adding benches and walkways, as well as a glass structure.

“(The remodel) creates usable space in an area that could have been really nice, but we didn’t do anything with it (previously),” said Matthew Tomaszewski, associate dean of the College of LAS. “Now, we have a chance to do something with it.”

The fourth floor, which was only used for storage, has also been largely remodeled. The space will provide additional work space for LAS faculty and graduate employees. The second and third floors will also provide office space for LAS, as well as labs for faculty instruction about the utilization of technology in the classroom.

The project, which was approved by the Illinois General Assembly in mid-2009, was initially expected to cost around $66,400,000. The majority — $60,304,000 — comes from the state, with the remaining $6,096,000 committed by the University.

The project contract was awarded to Williams Brothers Construction, Inc., in March 2010 by the Capital Development Board with a bid of $38,621,000.

While that number is low today, it would have been absurdly high when Lincoln Hall was originally constructed, said Karla Smalley, on-site observation architect. She said in 1910, it took a mere $250,000 to build the original structure. The famous art panels, which line the building with scenes from Lincoln’s life, cost a grand total of $1,000. To repair the panels today, it costs about $175,000, Smalley said.

“So about half your (original) budget would go to just repairing them,” Smalley said.

Holly Korab, senior director of Communications and Marketing, said the project is also a means of raising scholarship money. Everything in the building is on sale for dedication, from benches to classrooms. She said the Lincoln Theater is no longer available, though — it was recently bought by a couple who first met there. The theater was the most expensive space on sale for the scholarship fund, listed at $2 million.