CHAMPAIGN — Construction of a first-of-its-kind university facility for wounded veterans will begin on the University of Illinois' Urbana campus in 2013, Gov. Pat Quinn said Thursday.
Quinn came to the UI to announce that the state would provide $4 million of the $12 million needed to build the Center for Wounded Veterans in Higher Education. UI graduate and Chicago businessman Ron Chez already has pledged $6 million, and the UI is working with donors to raise the final $2 million.
UI trustees are expected to approve construction of the facility, to be located at 908 W. Nevada St., U, at their January meeting.
The three-story center will include residential units for 12 to 14 veterans, offices for support programs, tutorial support spaces, a fitness center, a teaching kitchen, a lounge and a conference room.
"We know of no other place in the country or the world for that matter — because we lead the world — with this kind of facilities for our wounded warriors," said Tom Lamont, an assistant secretary of the Army and a former member of the UI Board of Trustees from Springfield. "This is absolutely fabulous, and what a great place for it to be, given our Illinois tradition with the disabled."
Also among those attending the Quinn announcement Thursday was Timothy Nugent, who in 1948 led the effort to make the UI a national leader in educational services to disabled servicemen returning from World War II.
"As a national leader in disability education that we have been for over 60 years, we are committed to being a national resource that will disseminate best practices information to others as have always done. As we like to say, 'Those who say it can't be done should get out of the way of the people who are doing it,'" said Tanya Gallagher, dean of the UI College of Applied Health Sciences. "It will be the first of its kind. We have the unique expertise of working with individuals with severe and multiple disabilities."
She and Lamont both quoted Abraham Lincoln who said, "Care for him who shall have borne the battle."
Lamont added that with the planned center "we pay tribute to President Lincoln's promise as we strive to assist the courageous men and women who have borne the battle and the scars of more than a decade of war."
Of the 2 million Americans who have volunteered for the armed services since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Lamont said, "many thousands of those veterans have come home severely injured: traumatic brain injury, PTSD, burns and, as we know, almost 1,800 amputees. These veterans have served their country honorably and deserve every chance possible to continue their education and pursue their career goals."
With the scheduled downsizing of the military over the next five years, he said, "there will be more veterans, many of them disabled, transitioning from military service to the next chapter of their lives."
Quinn added that it is "important to make sure that the educational and learning needs of our veterans are taken care of."
"It's very, very special that we have this tradition in Illinois," the governor said. "If Abraham Lincoln was here today, he would be very, very proud of his home state and our university."
In introducing Chez, Quinn called him "a generous citizen with a servant's heart."
Chez, a 1962 UI graduate who is president of his own consulting firm and chairman of the board of EpiWorks, a semiconductor manufacturer in Champaign, said he is "incidental to this effort."
Chez served in the Army, joking that it was "easy, unpleasant but easy.
"The real heroes here are the people who have served. We can never, ever come close to paying them back for their sacrifice. We wish to continue in the tradition that Professor Nugent started and extend those services to you."
Chez had pledged his $6 million gift to the project about a year ago after meeting with Urbana campus Chancellor Phyllis Wise. Quinn said the state's $4 million share would come from the $31 billion Illinois Jobs Now construction program he pushed through the Legislature in 2009.