New ECE Building reflects nationally ranked ‘expectation’

Still under construction, the Open Projects Lab is designed to be a workspace for independent projects. It allows students to continuously research and add to their projects without having to move them from one place to another.

Since the first day of the semester, faculty and students have been able to step foot into the newest contribution to the North Quad: the upgraded Electrical and Computer Engineering Building.

For years, ECE classes were located in the Everitt Laboratory, 1406 W. Green St. The new building was completed after three years of construction and decades of planning. The cost of the building totaled $95 million, with half of the funds coming from the state of Illinois, and the other half from private and corporate donors.

Other than a difference in location, the new building provides features such as more flexible classrooms, soundproof rooms, project lab areas and spacious work regions, said Meg Dickinson, communications specialist of ECE. These improvements allow faculty and students to better engage with one another, collaborate on projects and advance in their teaching and studies.

Dickinson added that the University’s ECE department is consistently top ranked in the nation, and she thinks the upgraded building reflects that expectation.

“You want the building to showcase what this department is capable of doing, and I think this building does that. It really makes a statement that this department is going to continue to be the best department in the world for the next hundred years,” said Jonathan Makela, professor in engineering. 

Unlike Everitt Lab, the layout of the new ECE building is larger at 230,000 square feet, with more than 20 lab spaces, two separate lounges for undergraduate and graduate students and a soon-to-be-completed Open Projects Lab, where students can work on individual projects outside of the classroom. Another new feature is the glass-walled rooms, which allow faculty and students to see what is occurring throughout the building.

Professors and students said the added space is an advantage because it allows members in the department to perform more hands-on work.

“In this new building, the lab is big enough that there’s actually space for these things,” said Lippold Haken, ECE lecturer. “Where in the old building, it was always sort of a problem because there’s no space anywhere just to do things.”

He added that in the old building, the limited space meant that students sometimes had to work on projects in the hallways, which was inconvenient when class ended and students flooded their workspace.

Bo DellaMaria, senior in Engineering, said the new building offers more opportunities for ECE students.

“The building as a whole is really important because it utilizes a lot of cutting-edge technology in the ECE industry,” he said. “I think that’s really important to surround students with that because then they can sort of see the practical applications of the stuff that they are learning in the classroom.”

The ECE upgrade was constructed as a net-zero building, which means it will produce the same amount of energy as it consumes. 

This is aided by the solar panels that will be installed onto the roof of the building this fall, Dickinson said. These solar panels are funded with a $225,000 grant from the Student Sustainability Committee and a $250,000 grant from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity. LED lights were also installed throughout the entire building to increase energy efficiency.

On Oct. 10, the ECE department will host its building dedication ceremony in the Grainger Auditorium at 1 p.m. 

Dickinson said University leadership, Gov. Pat Quinn and private and corporate donors are expected to attend the public event.

Jane can be reached at [email protected]

Editor’s note: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Jonathan Makela is an associate professor in engineering. The article should have stated that Makela is a professor in engineering. The Daily Illini regrets the error.