CHAMPAIGN — On its 100th anniversary, and the birthday of its namesake, a newly renovated Lincoln Hall was rededicated Tuesday and celebrated as the heart of the University of Illinois' flagship campus.
State officials joined campus leaders to cut a ceremonial ribbon and pay tribute to the building named for Abraham Lincoln, whose signing of the 1862 Morrill Act laid the foundation for the UI and other land-grant institutions.
"I think Abe Lincoln would be proud of what we're doing with this building," said Gov. Pat Quinn, who pushed the $31 billion state capital construction program that provided almost $58 million for the project. The campus contributed $6 million.
Here is audio from WDWS  of the event.
Originally built to honor the nation's 16th president, Lincoln Hall underwent a two-year renovation that was designed to preserve the building's historical architecture but bring it into the modern age.
Nearly every undergraduate has taken at least one class at Lincoln Hall or rubbed the nose of the iconic Lincoln bust in the theater lobby, said Chancellor Phyllis Wise, who called it "the core of this campus."
"I don't believe there is any other building on this campus where you could find such a broad sense of ownership by current students and by alums," Wise said.
"Having this building restored to its original grandeur but also updated to accommodate today's ways of learning and teaching is the way that we will lead this great nation into the next century of learning, discovery and engagement."
UI Board of Trustees Chairman Chris Kennedy and other UI officials thanked Quinn for releasing the funds for Lincoln Hall during a difficult financial period. The state capital program also provided $60 million for the Blue Waters supercomputer and more than $90 million for the Electrical and Computer Engineering Building, he noted.
"The $58 million preservation of Lincoln Hall and the construction of new state-of-the-art classrooms and laboratories are critical investments in our future," Kennedy said.
The Morrill Act, signed during "one of the darkest periods of the Civil War," transformed higher education and opened it to the masses, said UI President Bob Easter. The university is still rooted in that spirit, he said, as almost 20 percent of the freshmen at Urbana are first-generation college students.
"Lincoln Hall is more than just an iconic building. It is truly an element of this great campus' identity," Easter said.
Quinn said Lincoln believed that democracy depended on a well-educated citizenry and that higher education was "not just for the elite."
Today's students need universities with proper technology and classrooms, Quinn said, calling Lincoln Hall a "building for the 21st century."
Later, during the ribbon-cutting, Quinn said, "Abe Lincoln, thank you for living."
Quinn also paid tribute to a former UI student, Sgt. Shawna Morrison of Paris, Ill., the first woman from the Illinois National Guard to die in combat in Iraq when her convoy was attacked in 2004. Her parents, Richard and Cindy Morrison, attended Tuesday's ceremony.
A courtyard space at Lincoln Hall will be named in her honor, a gift from donor Mark Neuman, as she loved the outdoors, said Ruth Watkins, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
About 360 people gathered at the ceremony in Lincoln Hall's ornate theater, which sports cushy new seats, a state-of-the-art sound system, desks that work, and gilded embellishments fit for a president (or governor). Ushers handed out copies of the program from the original dedication on Feb. 12, 1913, which was attended by Robert Todd Lincoln.
"Modernizing Lincoln Hall while preserving what made it special was no easy task," said Jim Underwood, executive director of the Illinois Capital Development Board.
The exterior was restored, including the 12 terra cotta panels depicting important events in Lincoln's life. Thousands of feet of wood doors and trim were refurbished, as were the ornamental ceilings, medallions and other embellishments inside and outside the theater.
Artisans re-created two medallions flanking the stage using a sketch unearthed during the renovation. They had apparently been removed when the ventilation system was updated, officials said.
The renovation also added space, as an attic and other unfinished areas were converted to graduate student offices and study lounges.
Sustainability was a key component, with a green roof and energy-efficient lighting, heating/cooling, plumbing and water systems that should reduce energy costs by $65,000 a year, Underwood said. About 90 percent of the construction waste was reused or salvaged, including a slate roof that was converted into crushed mulch for the outdoor gardens. The goal is to achieve LEED gold certification, he said.
Communication Professor John Caughlin was among the first to teach in the restored theater last fall and was awed by the results.
Caughlin, who received his undergraduate degree at the UI in 1991, took classes there when it was "remarkably bad. I remember sitting in lectures and just sort of staring at the peeling paint."
He returned a decade later to join the UI faculty and was shocked to find nothing had been repaired. The water damage was worse. The seats had lost most of their padding, and many of the arm-desks were broken.
"It was disheartening and sad," he said. Now, "it's just a gorgeous space."