Biggest campus renovations ever planned for Illini Union


Photo Courtesy of Alonzo Marsh

The plans for the Illini Union Renovation.

By Gillian Dunlop, Staff Writer

The University is making plans for the largest construction project ever on campus. They hope to complete a $248 million renovation project on the Illini Union.

The project has not yet been approved by the Chancellor or the Board of Trustees and wouldn’t take place for at least five years. Ideas began when two architectural companies visited the University. They conducted research on what students are looking for in a union, as well as on how the Illini Union compares to other universities, said Alonzo Marsh, president of the executive board for the Illini Union Board.

Marsh said turning the basement floor into a recreation space for students, complete with a stage and fitness center, is the major change. The new plans would move the basement cafeteria to the first floor to make it a main dining space and base for students.

Photo Courtesy of Alonzo Marsh
The proposed fitness area could provide a central location for fitness and wellness classes.

“It’s a really cool and exciting opportunity for the Union to become a new space,” Marsh said. “Not just for student programming, but to bring the students together; it’s a place where you can go and feel a part of a family.”

The second floor has one of the biggest construction plans. The architects are looking to keep the “historic look” of the Illini Union while also completely changing the side of the building and replacing it so it’s made out of glass. This way, there will be natural light coming in on every side and people can see outside onto the Main Quad.

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Photo Courtesy of Alonzo Marsh
The two-story coffee house could draw visitors into the Illini Union.

“It (will make) the space feel more like you’re at home,” Marsh said.

Additionally, the student complex on the second floor will be expanded. The third floor will have extra meeting rooms and Engineering Career Services will relocate there. The fourth floor will remain relatively unchanged.

The project is broken down into several stages and each stage is priced with a five-year escalation estimation. This means that the cost of each phase accounts for inflation.

The exact timeline of construction has not yet been determined, but the first phase will most likely include renovating the north side of the building, which will cost $70 million. The second phase will include renovating the basement and adding two underground levels of parking, as well as renovating the south end of the building. This phase will cost an estimated $180 million.

The University is looking for alumni donations and corporate sponsorship to help with the cost; however, a student fee will most likely be instituted as well.

“The whole fundraising plan for the next five years hasn’t been mapped out yet,” Marsh said. “But (there) won’t be a large increase from what students are paying right now.”

In order for a new student fee to pass, however, it will have to go through the referendum process.

Marsh said that they are looking at ways to generate money when the renovations are complete through things like booking more conferences and holding more events in the new spaces.

“We’re looking to generate as much revenue as possible without burdening the students,” he said.

Marsh believes the costs will be worth it.

“While there’s a lot of cost associated with it, a (big) payoff is what the students can do with the space,” Marsh said.

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