Big projects on pace on campus

Big projects on pace on campus

Tough to think about on these unseasonably breezy July days, but school is just around the corner at the University of Illinois.

OK, the start of classes is still more than a month away, but housing officials, construction crews and campus rental agents are busy prepping.

Here's a look at some changes you will see on campus this fall.

Campus Recreation/Marching Illini fields

You may have noticed the giant concrete bunker at First Street at Stadium Drive, which closed off a big chunk of First Street for a while. It's actually an underground detention basin to alleviate flooding in that area, which will be home to revamped Campus Recreation playing fields and a new Marching Illini practice field.

The $3.9 million project is a joint effort by Campus Recreation, the College of Fine and Applied Arts and the UI Housing Division, which is building a new residence hall across the street in Ikenberry Commons. The residence hall won't open until 2016, but the fields are scheduled to be finished by this August.

Recent rains meant construction crews from Turner and Ardmore Associates have been working seven days a week to finish the project on time, said Robyn Deterding, director of Campus Recreation.

"They have had some challenges with all of this weather," Deterding said.

The concrete detention basin was covered with several layers of material, including soil and rocks, and artificial turf will be installed over it starting next week, said Terry Elmore, associate director for operations at Campus Rec.

Meanwhile, the dirt is being leveled on the west side of the field, at Stadium and Oak Street, so it can be covered with the turf. Those fields will be used for soccer, flag football, lacrosse, rugby practice and other sports, Elmore said.

Elmore expects to meet the Aug. 15 target date, "fingers crossed. As long as the weather cooperates with us, we should be pretty well on schedule," he said.

The Marching Illini have a preseason camp scheduled to start Aug. 18, and the plan is to turn the new practice field over by that date, Deterding said.

The artificial turf allows the fields to be used more months of the year and alleviates wear and tear, officials said.

Electrical and Computer Engineering Building

Students in one of the UI's biggest departments may notice a slight difference in their new digs — by a century or so.

Classes, labs and offices started moving this week out of the old Everitt Lab into the $95 million Electrical and Computer Engineering Building on Wright Street, just south of the Beckman Institute. The 235,000-square-foot, high-tech giant will feature solar panels, modern hands-on classrooms and an array of labs — including a "nanofabrication lab" for undergraduates.

The building isn't quite finished. Crews still have to install seats and ceiling tiles and complete ventilation work in the auditorium; install the metal bike racks; touch up the paint and fix a few dents; and move in the furniture and lab equipment. But department officials say it will be ready for classes on Aug. 25.

New student activities

With the $165 million construction project in high gear at State Farm Center, campus officials had to make a change in the festivities for the 7,000 or so new students arriving in August.

The annual Freshman Convocation held in years past at State Farm Center is being moved to Memorial Stadium, on Aug. 22, with the annual picnic immediately following. And the "Sights and Sounds" event at the stadium, normally held the same day, will be moved to the following evening.

Student Affairs has other updates in store for new students, including a mobile "guidebook" that will send notices on their phones about activities that week.

No word on what the Guinness record-breaking event will be at the picnic this year, but one is planned. Past achievements include the world's largest corn-shucking event, the world's largest serving of salsa and the world's largest smoothie.

Campustown construction

One word (hyphenated): High-rise.

It's the trend du jour along the Green Street corridor, with a half-dozen projects underway to join the 24-story Whopper (309 E. Green St.) and other recent additions.

City planner T.J. Blakeman has a map that tracks development in the area since 2004. He counts at least 25 commercial projects over $1 million the last 10 years.

"It's shocking when you look at it in total," he said.

Two new apartment complexes are scheduled to open in August:

— Bankier Apartments' 14-story tower at Sixth and Green streets, recently named "Skyline Tower," according to property manager Margie Colter. Crews are still painting and moving in furniture to prepare for students, who will move in Aug. 22, she said.

"We're just doing the final touches," Colter said. "It will be done."

The ground-floor commercial area, which will once again house Game Day Sports, is not as far along but should be completed by that date, she said. Windows are still being installed on the parking levels, and the curbs and sidewalks have to be poured.

The building, which has 40 apartments, is fully leased, she said. The sidewalk along Sixth remains closed to pedestrians, and parking areas along Sixth are also being used for construction equipment.

— The five-story building at 112 E. Green St., C., site of the former Garcia's Pizza and the White Horse Inn. Leasing manager Alec Gillespie said the building is already finished and about 10 apartments are already occupied. The building has 52 apartments with room for 120 tenants, he said. It will also have first-floor retail — a liquor convenience store and an Asian restaurant, he said.

Other major Green Street apartment projects set to open in 2015:

— The JSM mixed-use project underway near the northwest corner of Sixth and Green streets, with apartments and a Marriott TownePlace Suites extended-stay hotel.

— The 24-story H.E.R.E. Enterprises at the northwest corner of Fourth and Green streets — the former site of a campus convenience store and IHOP restaurant.

— Five stories of apartments and townhouses at the west end of Campustown, on the former Champaign Builders Supply property on the south side of Green just east of the Canadian National railroad tracks.

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