Tate: Hall work a ways off

Tate: Hall work a ways off

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CHAMPAIGN — Will Assembly Hall renovation actually start in 2013? Who'll provide the money, and what will be the ultimate expense? How will the historic nature of an iconic building be maintained while adding rest rooms, escalators, elevators, air conditioning, a lowered floor and an entryway portal as sought-for improvements? How will they work all this around the basketball seasons?

Answers must wait until the feasibility phase is completed. It may be six months before the smoke starts to clear.

Dana Brenner, point man for athletic director Ron Guenther in this massive project, says knowledge gained from the Memorial Stadium renovation taught valuable lessons. One is to not get ahead of yourself. Another is the need for an advance construction manager to work with the planning engineers and architects.

"It is essential to invest in pre-planning and ground work for a project of this magnitude," said Brenner. "And in approaching donors, suite holders and those interested in naming rights, it will be advantageous to provide them a plan they can visually see."

So the first step, which began three weeks ago, was to put out a call for a construction manager, reduce the list of applicants to three or four, and hold interviews in late May.

After hiring a construction manager, the next step is to evaluate architect design companies in much the same way, again reduce the list to three or four, analyze their concepts,and get one under contract by July. Then the architects/engineers and construction manager can work on a conceptual design that will answer the questions above.

All this will be completed before the final fund-raising push, and the university won't be called on for approval until 80 percent of the money is under contract. Some has been promised already, and a great deal more must be raised. How much? My best guess: a lot.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The life of the Assembly Hall could only be extended if supportive cable winding for miles around the upper bowl is viable. Brenner said recent tests showed the wiring to be in pristine condition. So the 48-year-old Hall is being projected to reach 100. Otherwise, demolition would be required.

At least Nebraska got in the Big Ten

Young men in helmets brought Nebraska's Cornhuskers into the Big Ten.

We can pretend it was about academics, and we can cite Nebraska's performances in other sports, but it was about over-emphasized, money-raising, decades-successful football. The brand.

The latest reminder was the school's embarrassing ouster last month from the Association of American Universities, the nation's pre-eminent research-intensive group.

That outcome followed a bitter period in which Chancellor Harvey Perlman cited "changing criteria" and lobbied long and hard to prevent the first-ever ouster of an established member. Nebraska had belonged since 1909. After the executive committee voted 9-1 to end the relationship, the move was finalized when 44 negative votes narrowly provided the necessary two-thirds majority (don't you wonder how 17 Big 12 and Big Ten members voted?).

During what is considered a volatile period, Georgia Tech has been brought in and Syracuse has voluntarily pulled out of the AAU. Syracuse chancellor Nancy Cantor, who formerly held that position at Illinois, expressed her unhappiness in the Journal of Higher Education: "It's clear that the easiest path to scoring high on criteria is to have a large medical school (Nebraska has no on-campus med school) or large science and engineering faculties."

Nebraska, with its emphasis on agriculture research, is downgraded because ag research funding is not peer-reviewed, thus carrying less weight in the AAU metrics. The primary factors for inclusion are research funds and the share of faculty members belonging to National Academies. It is a private club in that meetings and discussions are not open to the public. Some non-members actually show greater credentials than some AAU members.

The other 11 universities making up the Big Ten are AAU members. It is noteworthy that Perlman, in thumbing his nose on his way out the AAU door, said the one advantage of Nebraska's membership in the last decade was helping the school join the Big Ten. And yes, if this academic setback had occurred two years ago, the Big Ten presidents wouldn't have been so anxious to receive the Cornhuskers.

What's he thinking?

Despite Rashard Mendenhall's strong criticisms of coach Ron Zook and Illinois in 2008, there was an interest last year in bringing the star ball carrier back to the UI fold after a time of mutual healing.

Surely, it was believed, Mendenhall would come to realize that brother Walter wasn't quite up to Big Ten standards as a running back (his quest for a fifth-year scholarship was denied), and further that Zook had nothing to do with him falling to No. 23 in the NFL draft.

No more. Mendenhall has tweeted himself into oblivion with clear-thinking Americans. His comments about women were over the top: Among the least offensive is, "Women are some of the most selfish creatures I know." He apparently sees a U.S. conspiracy in the destruction of the Twin Towers, and he closed with criticism of America's response to the killing of Osama bin Laden: "What kind of person celebrates death? It is amazing how people can hate a person they have never even heard speak. We've only heard one side."

Despite attempted "clarifications," we know how he feels. And so does Champion sports apparel, which dropped him as a sponsor.

Looking back over time, UI fans have found themselves cheering and supporting various scoundrels, some who proved unworthy as adults. At least two prominent running backs — Steve Havard (1995-99) and serial rapist Steve Feagin (1989-92) — received prison terms ... two members of the 1989 Final Four team found their way in and out of jail ... two other teammates have not performed well in society ... and any number of other stars ran into problems, drug-related and otherwise. Truth is, we don't always realize who and what we are cheering for.

Tate's tidbits

— In adding Utah and Colorado, and agreeing to split TV income evenly, the Pac-10 put together a bombshell package with Fox and ESPN that is roughly equal to the Big Ten's massive TV deal. Beginning in 2012-13, Pac-12 schools are anticipating more than $18 million per year, which is approximately what Illinois receives from its Big Ten share.

— It's a weak NBA draft, but former Illini Jereme Richmond faces tough numbers in attempting to crack the guaranteed money in the first round. The trio of Kentucky, Kansas and Duke are likely to put nine players ahead of him. Add a half-dozen foreigners — Lithuania may have two in Jonas Valanciunas and Donatas Motiejunas – and that's half of the 30-man first round. Throw in big stars like Arizona's Derrick Williams, UConn's Kemba Walker and Colorado's Alec Burks, and quality seniors like Jimmer Fredette and JaJuan Johnson, and it fills up in a hurry. There'll be more than twice as many underclassmen coming out as there are first-round slots.

— I've probably watched 1,000 softball games, and I swung helplessly at Eddie Feigner's (King and his Court) changeup. But I've never seen a more confusing off-speed pitch than that thrown by DePaul's Lindsey Dean in Thursday's 2-0 shutout of Illinois. Dean's spinner seemed to stop in mid-air. She threw it repeatedly to confuse a good-hitting Illini team. Why can't more pitchers develop that?

Mood check

Why I Feel Young ...

Sometimes an old-timer gets lucky. How about an evening producing two softball wins, including a major 11-8 upset against a longtime rival, and then carding a 39 the next morning on the back nine of the Orange, good for a $2 payoff from Andy Dixon's team. Does it get any better than that?

Why I Feel Old ...

You'd think the Senior League planted a personal trespassing sign past first base. As soon as I reach the bag safely, four spry guys leap out of the dugout to see if I need a pinch runner. I declined but, oh boy, what if Fast Eddie, the next hitter, had plugged the gap! It would have been ugly.

Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at ltate@news-gazette.com.


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JimOATSfan wrote on May 08, 2011 at 8:05 am


It would be great if the CM & Design team put up a website to show preliminary design & then design development schemes. I still think wrapping the circle in a square box with exterior materials to match Memorial Stadiums better features is viable. The new roof line could be at, or just above the perimeter center joint of the existing dome leaving the upper dome roof visible. Then most new amenities can be built inside the new structure.


Things change don't they? Much less value placed on healthy agriculture in the 21st century then other sciences. Their passion for Husker football matches OSU and UM. Welcome aboard!


I think he is wiser than most folks who do the criticizing. Killing should never be an option nor celebrated. "Truth is, we don't always realize who and what we are cheering for." Spot on ... wait until they discover weather terrorism exists. His comments about women I did not know about.

NBA Draft

It will be tough for Jerome. I think one more year of development and he would have been a sure 1st rounder.

Mood Check

Loren the secret is your youthful mental energy. Keep enjoying life and thanks for sharing your point of view along the way. Cheers!

Go Illini!

ehorton wrote on May 08, 2011 at 9:05 am

the conundrum known as z.

i suppose you know that obl had been and was currently actively planning more murderous acts?

nice shot.

ed horton

ehorton wrote on May 08, 2011 at 11:05 am


i did not call you an uneducated moron.


ed horton

jturner wrote on May 08, 2011 at 12:05 pm

I'll see it I can divert this to a more civil, (but still critical)path. Re the Assembly Hall. I understand that it is an Icon, but it's not the coloseum in Rome which attracts tourists and reflects a significan era in world history. The Hall is required to be functional and it appears that it will only continue to be at great cost, including likely incremental cost to a new facility. I know it's going to happen and that we should all just shut up, but this is a typical case of public agencies/governments ignoring economics and pressing ahead. If we weren' broke, I'd understand it more. I also understand it will be mainly private money, but it still drains resources from competing needs.

Matt wrote on May 08, 2011 at 1:05 pm

I wonder if Z would change his tune if his family was next on Bin Laden's list.

Another great article by Loren.

myattitude wrote on May 08, 2011 at 5:05 pm

As to the Assembly Hall it is a nice sight to see but a poor place to see a game especially in C section.

I would prefer to see a new dual purpose arena for basketball and ice hockey. I know they say there is not enough activity on campus to have both a new arena and the Assembly Hall. However, if the Hall had A/C added to make it usable in the summer and some other minor improvements I believe it might be able to generate more business. I would rather see the Huff activities moved to the Assembly Hall.

I am afraid this is putting a crimp on a basketball team that could have a better future with better facilities.

As to Nebraska it is not clear that this says Nebraska is not a solid academic institution but that its breadth of curriculums is narrow.

IlliniOllie wrote on May 09, 2011 at 8:05 am

"Dana Brenner, point man for athletic director Ron Guenther in this massive project, says knowledge gained from the Memorial Stadium renovation taught valuable lessons. One is to not get ahead of yourself. "

Well, at least someone in the department might realize that it's not a good idea to sell a project including all sorts of great things for everyone, and then only do half the job and ignore half the stadium. Too bad it took doing it on the most historic and important building in the department to learn that lesson.

illini7074 wrote on May 09, 2011 at 10:05 pm

IlliniOllie is correct, one half the stadium doesn't fit with the other half and its originality has been ruined. A condominium complex on top of the west side of the stadium is an eyesore.

What would have been the problem with eliminating all seats under the overhang on both sides, most are in the shade and one cannot follow a ball high in the air when punted. The luxury boxes could then have been built just under the upper deck on both sides keeping the lines of the stadium in tact.

JimOATSfan wrote on May 10, 2011 at 1:05 am

Regarding the Hall renovation project:

Recommend using a 20% cost contingency on all CM projected cost updates. When the project is finally bid out, then reduce that to a 5% contingency.

During construction period, retain the services of a 3rd party consultant (the AD office may have done this for the Memorial Stadium project) like Merrit & Harris in NYC. Their sports group (M&H Sports) have provided this service to Owners on over 25 major structures and have an excellent rep. Sire link: http://www.merrittandharris.com/Projects/MHSports/tabid/62/language/en-US/Default.aspx

Critical to have a firm like this on the project. Go Illini!

jgrout wrote on May 11, 2011 at 2:05 am

Loren, Pac-12 football is paying a substantial price for the money: uprooting a substantial percentage of football games from Saturday afternoons to weeknight and Saturday prime time. The member institutions must be hoping that they'll gain more in TV revenue than they'll lose in season ticket sales from football fans who will no longer be able to make it to enough games to justify a purchase.