Khan Annex opens at Huff Hall on UI campus


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CHAMPAIGN — A $10 million center on healthy aging, public health and accessibility got a thumb's up on its debut from Jean Driscoll, the first eight-time winner of the Boston Marathon.

Driscoll, who works in the new Khan Annex, praised the addition to Huff Hall as being innovative while in keeping with a tradition of helping students and faculty with physical challenges at the University of Illinois.

Applied Health Sciences Dean Tanya Gallagher noted at Thursday afternoon's orange and blue ribbon-cutting that her college was home to T.K. Cureton, "the father of fitness research" who scientifically studied the benefits of exercise, and Tim Nugent, who pressed the campus for accessibility when injured World War II veterans returned to campus.

"Everybody enters through the same door," Gallagher said of the new annex.

Besides being Gold LEED-certified, the complex has a long hallway with a slight incline that links it with Huff Hall, which began life in 1924 as Huff Gym.

The Khan Annex provides over 24,000 square feet of state-of-the-art laboratory, instructional and collaborative space.

Shahid Khan, president of Urbana's Flex-N-Gate Corporation, and his wife Ann Carlson Khan, gave the Urbana campus $10 million to fund the new north addition of Huff Hall.

Other donors are marked by names of places within the annex.

The Center on Health, Aging, and Disability includes a conference room the Linda Ayers Whitney Reception Area.

The Master of Public Health program includes the Michael Vitoux and Vitoux Family Reception Area.

The new addition also will house the James K. and Karen S. McKechnie Laboratory, classroom facilities and faculty offices.

The tone of the opening was light.

President Michael Hogan told an Ellen DeGeneres joke about her mom, who in her late years walked 5 miles a day and now has turned 97.

"There's just no telling where she is now," is the punchline.

Khan also joked. He noted that he and his wife are equal partners in all their enterprises.

"I make the money, and she spends it," he said.

More seriously, Khan said, "One of my great joys is making money. ... What makes it even better is to use it to make a difference."

Trustee Karen Hasara of Springfield said a center that studies such things as aging and fitness has never been more important.

She noted that 13 percent of the U.S. population was over 65 in the year 2000. By 2030, Hasara said, the number will be 20 percent.

Shahid and Ann Carlson Khan are longtime UI supporters. They have contributed to the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, the Library, the College of Business and the College of Applied Health Sciences, where they have funded five endowed Khan Professorships, and an expansion at the UI's tennis facility.

Khan earned a bachelor's degree in industrial engineering at the UI in 1971. He began working for Flex-N-Gate Corporation in 1970 while he was an engineering student, left the company in 1978 to start a new venture, and bought Flex-N-Gate in 1980.

Today, Flex-N-Gate is one of the 200 largest private companies in the United States, a UI press release noted.


Paul Wood is a reporter at The News-Gazette. His email is, and you can follow him on Twitter (@pvawood).