Updated: Students approve fee increase for Assembly Hall renovation

Updated 9:50 p.m. Thursday.

URBANA — Students have approved a $50 annual fee increase to help fund the $160 million renovation of the University of Illinois Assembly Hall, but the outcome of an advisory referendum on Chief Illiniwek won't be known until next week.

The increase in the campus general fee would take effect in fall 2014. It's expected to provide 17 percent of the Assembly Hall renovation cost over the 30-year life of the bonds sold to pay for the project.

The measure passed by about 900 votes, 6,006 to 5,105, out of 12,062 cast, a relatively large turnout, according to unofficial results posted Thursday on the Campus Student Election Commission website.

"It just goes to show the students understand the long-term goals of the Assembly Hall project, and what it means to future generations here," said Associate Athletic Director Kent Brown.

The $25-a-semester fee increase will be paid by both undergraduates and graduate students, though some students are exempt. If all 41,000 students paid the fee, it would raise $2.1 million annually, or $61.5 million over 30 years.

Results of the question on Chief Illiniwek were not released Thursday. Commission Chairman Adam Joines said he was instructed by the Illinois Student Senate's moot court to withhold the numbers until a related case before the court is resolved. The sponsor of the ballot measure, Josh Good, had challenged the senate's sponsorship of a new campus mascot contest. A hearing on the case is scheduled next week.

Good said he was disappointed not to get the results immediately.

"I do not think that this current referendum should interfere with the current moot court case involving the ISS," he said by email Thursday.

The Assembly Hall vote was closer than supporters had expected, given that they had worked on the effort since October.

But it wasn't publicized until last month, and some students objected that there wasn't enough time to give it full consideration before this week's election. They also argued that other alternatives should have been more fully explored before committing millions of dollars in student fees.

Student supporters and athletic officials maintained that students should share in the cost of the project because they benefit from Assembly Hall programming, including concerts and Broadway shows.

They said the plan all along was to pay for the bulk of the $160 million renovation with private funding, including naming rights, but supplement that with student fees. Among the improvements planned are air-conditioning, better student seating, improved restrooms and concessions, luxury boxes and new entrance lobbies.

UI trustees approved a $2 million contract Thursday with AECOM architects, the firm hired in 2011 to create schematic designs for the project, to continue with the next phase of design. Brown said the full project will be up for trustee approval in May.

UI sophomore Preston Brown, co-chair of the "Re-Assemble Assembly Hall" campaign and a leader of the Orange Krush spirit group, said athletic officials worked hard to keep the student portion of the costs relatively low. They approached him and other students last spring to get input on the project, and the group began working on the fee increase in October.

He said the group created a website and Facebook page with information about the campaign to help students cast an informed vote. But the group deliberately didn't start publicizing the fee proposal until recently so that it would be fresh in students' minds for the election, he said.

"If we would have started this back in October, people would have forgotten about it," he said, celebrating the results with other students at an event sponsored by the athletic department at Memorial Stadium on Thursday evening.

UI junior Tom Pacey, who had expressed reservations about the fee increase, said he wasn't surprised by the outcome. But he urged campus and athletic administrators to continue to get student input on how the money is spent.

"Hopefully we can get an actual estimate in dollars on how much is going to be used," he said. "They should strive to be as transparent as possible."

Preston Brown had expected the measure to win by a wider margin but suggested the Chief Illiniwek measure accounted for some of the no votes.

"A lot of people associate the Chief with athletics" and Chief opponents likely voted no on the fee as well, he said.

"What we're looking at is the 6,000 yes votes," he said. "I think Illini nation, our community and our campus in particular, is really behind this project."

He said student seating on the floor of the arena will more than double with the renovation. The Orange Krush now has about 300 seats on the floor, and designs show 1,000 to 1,200 student floor seats, though not all of those will be reserved for Orange Krush, he said.

"We'll be able to make a bigger impact," he said.

In other election results, UI junior Mike Cunningham was elected as the new student trustee from the Urbana campus, beating out five other candidates with 2,345 votes. He will serve a one-year term beginning this spring.

Graduate student Carey Ash, who had waged a write-in campaign, finished fourth with 940 votes. His name was removed from the ballot after campus officials ruled Ash, who is originally from Louisiana, was not an Illinois resident and therefore not eligible to run.

Ash, a member of the Urbana Plan Commission, maintained that he fulfilled residency requirements under state law and said administrators improperly applied criteria used to determine residency for in-state tuition. He tried unsuccessfully to get a court injunction to delay the election.

"In the end, my campaign could not overcome the immense hurdle of having to run as a write-in candidate," Ash said in a statement. "The close results of the vote demonstrate that the ideas I put forward during this election resonated with the student body."

He vowed to continue to "make sure that no other eligible student is excluded from the ballot in the future."

Two other current student fees were also reaffirmed, supporting the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts and a program that provides free newspapers on campus. Official election results will be available next week, Joines said.

UI student voting results

All results unofficial

Assembly Hall fee

Yes 6,006

No 5,105

Chief support

Results not available.

Collegiate readership fee

Yes 8,566

No 2,438

Krannert fee

Yes 7,583

No 3,449

Student trustee

Mike Cunningham 2,345

Brian Siegel 2,176

Ryan Gleason 1,259

Carey Ash (write-in) 940

Ladarius Dupree 762

Shao Guo 597

No results Thursday evening for SORF Board or student senate

Source: Campus Student Election Commission

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Lostinspace wrote on March 07, 2013 at 5:03 pm

What was the tally?