UI trustees sign off on renaming, renovating Assembly Hall
CHICAGO — University of Illinois trustees today approved a new name and a $165 million renovation plan for the University of Illinois Assembly Hall.
Meeting at the Chicago campus, the board signed off on design plans, a project budget and a $60 million naming rights agreement to rename the arena the "State Farm Center."
AECOM, which was hired in 2011 for conceptual design work on the project, will also draw up construction documents, for a total contract of $13.1 million. The board approved up to $9.5 million for Turner Construction Management to manage the project, which is expected to be completed by the 2016-17 basketball season.
Done in phases, the renovation will include the addition of air-conditioning, more student seats, premium seating, new lobbies and locker rooms. It is being funded mostly by donations, but also from student fees and ticket surcharges.
The university will finance the $165 million project with the sale of bonds, most likely over 30 years. Including interest, the total cost could reach $250 million to $300 million.
The board also approved a one-year contract extension and a $200,000 raise for head basketball coach John Groce, which will bring his annual compensation to $1.6 million. The terms were announced last month.
The board also approved construction plans for a new multimillion-dollar baseball stadium at the UI-Chicago named for New York Yankees' centerfielder Curtis Granderson, who announced a large gift for the ballpark in February.
The stadium will host UIC Flames baseball and youth league games through partnerships with Major League Baseball and Chicago Public Schools. The UI-Chicago retired Granderson's No. 28 Flames jersey in February.
After a lengthy discussion, trustees also approved new rates for the UI Chicago's self-funded student insurance plan, which will cover sex or gender reassignment surgery for the first time. Students proposed adding the benefit, which will cost about $4.50 more per semester; rates are going up a total of $60 per semester.
Trustees Edward McMillan and Timothy Koritz both voted no, fearing it might be construed as using taxpayer money or that parents would object to being forced to pay for a controversial procedure that would benefit only a few students.
Other trustees noted that students can opt out of the insurance program, that it wouldn't use state or federal money, and that it would cover only surgeries deemed medically necessary. Based on history at other universities, it's likely to be one student per year, noted UI Trustee Patrick Fitzgerald.
"This is not an easy process. The notion that people would go through it lightly is very low," he said.
Trustee Pamela Strobel also said trustees shouldn't go down the "slippery slope" of trying to determine "what taxpayers want or don't want."
Trustees also approved a new policy drawn up in response to a state law prohibiting public universities from hiring external search firms except when recruiting a president, or when the president or board of trustees demonstrates a need for using such a firm. Exceptions include senior positions that require strict confidentiality in the initial stages at a level campus staff can't provide; positions, such as athletic coaches, that require extensive recruiting and networking due to competitive markets and the need for a diverse candidate pool; and positions in a field not found traditionally within higher education, such as a specialized field of medicine.
UI administrators will track the use of such firms and report annually to the trustees.
The law was prompted in part by a News-Gazette story that found the UI had spent $6 million over nine years on search firms.