Thursday, May 7, 2015

Delay in plans for UIS Student Union blamed on budget crisis

Groundbreaking for the University of Illinois Student Union, a building students approved in 2012, won’t occur this month as originally planned. But UIS Chancellor Susan Koch said Tuesday the 50,000-square-foot building will go up.

“It’s a great project, and we’re going to get it done,” she said. Koch said the University of Illinois Board of Trustees approved the concept several months ago, and the university has been working on the design for two years.

Groundbreaking was tentatively scheduled for May, and it was hoped the building could open sometime in 2016. But the ongoing budget crisis in higher education is causing the university to take a step back from its original timetable.

Gov. Bruce Rauner’s current budget proposal for the fiscal year that begins July 1 calls for a 31.5 percent across-the-board cut in higher-education funding.

“That has caused us all to be much more cautious, especially where new construction is concerned,” Koch said. “We’ve been asked by the university administration to alter our original timetable and postpone the groundbreaking to a later time.”

She said she’s hoping now for a fall groundbreaking, assuming finances are more settled. That would allow for the building to open in spring or summer of 2017.

“We consider it an essential element to our growth strategy,” said Koch, noting the university will have a record number of graduates this spring.

"Having a Student Union will help attract more students and at the same time enhance campus life for everyone,” she said.

Student fees and private donations will pay the bulk of the $21.75 million cost for the building, which will be on the south end of the UIS Quad, north of the soccer fields and along Richard Wright Drive.

Koch said student fees won't increase until the building opens. She said well over $3 million in private donations have been pledged, with a goal of $8 million. “We have a way to go yet,” she said, but expressed confidence the goal will be met. “The Springfield community really understands the great value of the university.”

UIS will go back to the board of trustees for final approval, likely in July or September, she said. After that, construction bids will be sought.

This story appeared in The State Journal-Register on May 5, 2015.

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