Block 'I' tower meant to lift Marching Illini to new heights

Block 'I' tower meant to lift Marching Illini to new heights

CHAMPAIGN — A giant Block "I" will soon be visible for blocks around the Marching Illini practice field near First Street and Gregory Drive.

After years of planning, the UI will break ground today on a new tower for Director Barry Houser and his assistants to observe and direct the members of the band during rehearsals.

The 52-foot tower will be painted bright orange and navy blue, and the top portion will be in the shape of the iconic Block I.

"It's a very classy-looking tower. It should be a great beacon for somebody to see on game day, and other days as well," Houser said.

The purchase and construction of the tower was made possible by a $200,000 gift from UI alumnus and New York University law Professor Ronald Filler (Class of '70) and his wife, Paula. Others donated to the project as well.

"I always respected and thought highly of the band, and my wife and I decided to help out by building this tower," said Ronald Filler, who planned to be on hand for the ground-breaking today.

The Ronald and Paula Filler Marching Illini Instructional Tower will be installed at the north end of the artificial turf practice field, near the heart of tailgating and game-day activities at Memorial Stadium, officials said.

Houser said it will improve both safety and instruction.

He has been using a scissor lift to oversee practices, but that's not the safest approach, he said, recalling a student at the University of Notre Dame who died when a lift toppled over during high winds in October 2010. The galvanized steel will be able to withstand heavy winds and is weather-proof, Houser said.

And the two platforms on the tower — one at the bottom of the I and one at the top — will give Houser and his staff a much better view of the band's formations during practice, he said.

"It's going to be a great perspective," he said. "The practice field, that's my classroom. We can really see what's going on on the field."

The goal is to finish construction in time for homecoming on the last weekend in October, he said.

The prefabricated pieces will be lifted onto a concrete base by a crane. The tower will be secured inside a gated area, he said.

The ground-breaking is scheduled for 2 p.m. at the tennis courts north of the practice field, ahead of the band's performance before the 7 p.m. Illini game against Western Kentucky. Participants will include the Fillers, Houser, members of the Marching Illini and other band staff members.

Filler, a season-ticket holder who makes it to four or five football games a year, said he played in his high school band and "fell in love" with the Marching Illini when he started at the UI.

"For 50 years, I followed them after the football games for the concert they do at the Education Building," he said Friday.

Filler has made previous donations to the band and has also provided partial scholarships for 92 UI students over the years, six each fall and six each spring. He planned to attend a dinner with six scholarship winners on Friday night.

"I'm hoping to get to 150," Filler said. "I bleed orange and blue."

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GLG wrote on September 09, 2017 at 8:09 am

I'm sure this will offend someone and it will have to come down!!

RatDog wrote on September 09, 2017 at 8:09 am

Hey rich people, why doncha contribute to a book fund so students can afford the $200 text books instead of throwing money at these stupid, worthless sports projects?

There's just something wrong here: getting money for public education is like pulling teeth but 'they' can always find a million dollars for a sporting facility.

PSL wrote on September 09, 2017 at 10:09 am

What a timely story! I was literally jogging by the band practice yesterday and thinking "wouldn't it be nice if the band could get a permanent structure rather than a scissor lift?" The Notre Dame catastrophe was definitely in my mind, especially with how windy it gets here. The University of Michigan installed a permanent band structure several years ago and it looks good.

GLG wrote on September 09, 2017 at 12:09 pm

Are the $200 + text books the same ones that the professor requires students to buy when taking his class, that is really taught by a TA, while the professor sets home and writes more books?? What a racket!!