CHAMPAIGN — For years, the proverbial elephant in the room of a research park meeting was not an elephant but a pig.
Or rather, hundreds of them, all housed in facilities on land slated for an expanded University of Illinois Research Park.
Now with the approval of an expansion onto 100 acres east of First Street, a new research park building under construction south of the I Hotel and Conference Center, and plans being developed to make Fourth Street much more than a gravel path from St. Mary's Road to Windsor Road, a roadmap for the future of the swine facilities appears to be in the making.
Over the years, members of the research park's board of managers, which oversees the development, have made comments about the swine facilities and the waste lagoons that surround them, but no formal plan was ever drafted.
"We need to have a solution," UI Vice President for Research Lawrence Schook told The News-Gazette. The UI professor, who was part of the international team that sequenced the swine genome, became vice president for research earlier this year. He said he has been discussing the situation in earnest with faculty and campus administrators.
"I'm hopeful. We'll have to agree on what we need, where we'll go and the timeline for moving it within a month or so," he said.
Research Park Director Laura Frerichs said the discussion is not that the swine facilities need to move so the research park can expand, "it's how can we modernize swine facilities."
Added Schook: "There's a real need for a 21st-century swine facility."
One of the questions that needs to be answered, he said, is if the university needs a swine production facility or a biomedical research facility. Building designs and specifications will vary for both, he said.
In recent years, more and more biomedical research has involved swine because the pig is a biomedical model. Pigs are used as models for human research.
Schook said researchers need to think not about what they need now, but what the facilities should look like in 25 years.
Some of the swine research facilities south of the hotel date to about the 1950s or '60s and others to the 1980s, with some updates made over the years.
Sows, or female pigs, are housed inside and those sows produce piglets throughout the year.
Sites being considered for the new research center would be near the university's poultry and beef facilities on South Race Street between Curtis and Old Church roads.
The UI also maintains a pig farm on South First Street in Champaign.
In addition to moving the swine facilities, the UI eventually will have to move the feed mill, located east of the hotel and conference center on the south side of St. Mary's Road, Schook said.
That facility dates to the 1930s.
When asked about a cost estimate for the relocation, Schook said he had "no idea."
But he was certain that with funding, "we have to think outside the box."
The UI will not simply go to Springfield or Washington and ask for the money. The UI also will have to pay for it with several different sources, including private money.
And "we will try to stage it," he said.
Meaning, first decommission the lagoons and solar ponds and go from there.
In the meantime, currently under construction in the park is the Technology Development and Fabrication Center III building on Hazelwood Drive east of First Street. The 20,000-square-foot building will house expanded facilities for iCyt, the flow cytometry company that is now part of Sony, John Deere, plus space for one more tenant.
Research park developer Peter Fox said he hopes to have the building open in January.
Two other buildings are planned south of the I Hotel and Conference Center and north of Hazelwood Drive.
In other research park news, board members, employers and employees celebrated the park's 10th anniversary Thursday with a dedication ceremony renaming the former Motorola building after the late Clint Atkins, who, with Fox, helped develop the park.
Officials were given tours of the park and university administrators and research park tenants spoke.