COLUMN: Lincoln Hall: To renovate or to completely rebuild?

It is a well-known, long-standing, oft-complained of fact that Lincoln Hall is in a state of disrepair. Its status as a historic landmark has not kept its degradation from continuing. Recently, after several lobbying attempts, the General Assembly voted to provide funds to renovate the building. The state has provided a total of $5 million and University President B. Joseph White has announced plans to renovate the building.

But we shouldn’t renovate Lincoln Hall. We should destroy it. And we should do it because it would truly honor Lincoln’s noble legacy.

Were the building demolished, it would of course lose its historic landmark status and there would be an outcry from historic preservationists in the state. In 2005, the building was placed on a list of the ten most endangered historic landmarks in the state by the Landmarks Preservation Council of Illinois, which campaigns for its preservation.

The main priority for the University has been to restore the learning conditions within Lincoln Hall while still retaining everything that makes it a historic landmark. In other words, the cost of the improvement and the quality of the end result both stand as a lower priority than maintaining the building’s history.

But if we set Lincoln Hall’s history aside, what would the University’s options be? The building could be demolished and rebuilt as a state-of-the-art structure, not merely renovated and returned to what it looked like when it was built in 1911. A new building could take into account the changing needs of a modern student body, taking advantage of advances in technology and putting itself on par with the more incredible buildings the University enjoys on the engineering Quad.

Most importantly, the building could be built to take into account the growing energy crisis in this country. A green, energy-efficient structure would better protect the environment and save money in energy costs. An energy efficient Lincoln Hall would celebrate the legacy of our sixteenth president better than the retention of a historic landmark.

According to a University publication on Lincoln Hall’s renovation, the project is estimated to cost a total of $55.8 million. For the astronomical costs that both taxpayers and students must incur, the improvements to the building ought to reflect that cost.

But the cost of demolishing and rebuilding Lincoln Hall would likely come at a much greater value. Because demolition has not been seriously considered, nobody knows how much it would cost, but the recently built Siebel Center on the engineering campus cost roughly $25 million more to construct than it would cost to renovate Lincoln Hall. Also, the Siebel Center is filled with technological wonders used for an engineering education, most of which would be unnecessary for a new Lincoln Hall, and therefore would drive down costs dramatically. And in exchange for whatever the extra costs would be, the University would be able to enjoy a completely new building on the main Quad. The added costs would eventually pay for themselves anyway, thanks to lower energy costs.

Let’s examine Lincoln Hall’s history for a moment. The building was erected in 1911. This was not the site of a Lincoln-Douglas debate. It wasn’t built in the wake of the Civil War. It has historic qualities, to be sure, but none that can’t be retained in a brand new structure. The sandstone murals along the outside of the building, the bust of Lincoln in the entrance; all of that can be incorporated into a new Lincoln Hall.

An Illinois Student Senate resolution written by Jason Webber, the Vice President of External Affairs, will be put to a vote this Wednesday about this very issue. If the student voice grows loud enough, the University might begin to consider demolition a viable option.

The degradation of Lincoln Hall is a disgrace to Lincoln’s name and to this University. But renovation falls short of a solution the University can be proud of. A new building designed for a new generation of students and a new era in American history would be the most fitting tribute of all.