ROCKFORD - Despite last-minute pleas not to sell its farmland near Allerton Park, the University of Illinois Board of Trustees approved a resolution Thursday for the sale of the land.
The board authorized the university to negotiate a sale contract with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources for up to 1,300 acres of farmland near the park. The department of natural resources plans to create a tall-grass prairie and wildlife habitat on the land.
Charles Morris, fire chief for Mid-Piatt Fire Protection District, which provides services to some of the land to be sold, and coordinator of Piatt County's Emergency Services and Disaster Agency, told the board Thursday a prairie area close to the park would pose a fire danger.
Jim Reed, a farmer and Monticello resident, also spoke at the board meeting, saying the sale of the farmland would not bring the economic benefit the UI is seeking.
UI officials say they need to diversify the income that supports Allerton Park, and they plan to invest the money from the sale in the UI's endowment fund. But Reed said the sale would take farmland off the tax rolls, eliminate sales of grain, supplies and crop insurance and other economic benefits farming brings, and not bring any net increase in investment returns.
?We feel we and IDNR have addressed those concerns,? said Chancellor Nancy Cantor.
She said there is a fire safety plan for the park, tax payments will continue for at least five years, and Piatt County will receive a one-time grant equal to a percentage of the sale price. The board approved the resolution without any further discussion, much to the disappointment of Reed.
?For our discussion to have a cumulative 10 minutes, for there to be no discussion, no debate whatsoever when there were thousands of signatures, hundreds of letters of opposition from all the Piatt County taxing bodies, it seems like this is a behind-the-doors, done deal,? Reed said. ?They are a public institution.?
Once the contract is negotiated, it must be approved by the president of the UI Alumni Association and the chief justice of the Illinois Supreme Court.
UI President James Stukel said alumni association President Joel Weisman has said he will approve the sale.
Reed said he and other opponents of the sale plan to ask Chief Justice Mary Ann McMorrow not to approve the sale.
?We fully intend to appeal to the chief justice. She has a full veto in this,? Reed said.
Board gets more budget authority
The board approved three resolutions aimed at increasing the board's accountability for how it spends state and tuition money.
The board approved a measure requiring it to report in a line-item operating budget how it will spend state and tuition money. It would also require board approval before money for salaries or more than 2 percent of unrestricted operating funds are transferred from one area to another.
The board also voted to adhere to the state's rules on reimbursement of travel expenses and to have its comptroller oversee compliance with travel regulations. And it voted to have Stukel review the UI's administrative structure and come up with proposals for consolidation.
?I believe we send a loud and clear message that we hear the public's concerns and will redouble our efforts to be accountable and responsible,? said board Chairman Lawrence Eppley.
Dean appointment approved
The board approved the appointment of John Unsworth as dean of the Graduate School of Library and Information Science.
Unsworth is an English professor and director of the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville. He previously taught at North Carolina State University.
Unsworth replaces Linda Smith, who has served as interim dean since 2001, when former Dean Leigh Estabrook stepped down. He'll be paid $170,000 per year, plus a $10,000 per year administrative increment.
Building design approved
The board approved the design for an East Campus Commercial Center to be built near the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts in Urbana. Construction on the retail and apartment complex is scheduled to begin in June. The complex is designed to replace retail space that was lost to UI construction in the area.
Construction manager hired
The board hired Gilbane, Chicago, as construction manager for the design portion of a renovation and expansion of the Intramural Physical Education Building in Urbana. The firm will be paid $589,000 for the work.
The board delayed approving a contract for services for the entire project at the request of trustees Robert Sperling and Niranjan Shah. They asked administrators to renegotiate some contract language so the UI would pay less than the $3.5 million contract amount if Gilbane isn't required to provide as many services as estimated.