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URBANA — State funding for the long-awaited renovation of Altgeld Hall could be released in early 2020, but the state is asking the University of Illinois to commit up to $35 million now to get the project started and fill a funding gap.

The latest budget estimates put the combined cost of renovating Altgeld and replacing nearby Illini Hall at $188 million, UI Vice President and CFO Avijit Ghosh said Monday.

The state has promised $140 million for the project: a $100 million appropriation last spring for the Altgeld renovation; and $40 million toward a new Digital Sciences Center on the site of Illini Hall, money that is part of the $500 million legislators approved for the Discovery Partners Institute.

The UI will be responsible for the remaining $48 million of the Altgeld-Illini project, Ghosh told UI trustees at a meeting of the board’s Audit, Budget, Finance and Facilities Committee.

The Illinois Capital Development Board will oversee the project and expects to start releasing the state’s portion of the Altgeld funding in early 2020, Ghosh said.

But the board and the university want to “keep the project moving” in the meantime, he said.

So administrators are asking UI trustees to increase the project budget for design, site preparation and other costs to $35 million, up from the $4.65 million approved last March for conceptual and schematic designs.

The board had selected Cannon Design of Chicago for the design work and Gilbane Building Co. of Chicago as construction manager, and the Capital Development Board has agreed to continue working with those consultants, Ghosh said.

Once the funding is released by the state and the design work is complete, administrators will seek trustee approval for the full project budget and design of the two facilities, Ghosh said.

Trustee Don Edwards and others questioned the $30 million jump in costs for the preliminary work, given that design work is usually closer to 10 percent of a project budget.

Ghosh explained that the total also includes site preparation, contingencies and other costs.

The capital development board “wants us to put that money up front so that they can start moving on this project,” Ghosh said.

“It’s really to fill a hole from the state for the project,” Edwards said.

Altgeld and Illini Hall are used heavily for classes, particularly in math and statistics, and both are in need of extensive renovation, Ghosh said.

Planners decided that it will be more effective to replace Illini Hall than renovate it and that the two projects should be planned concurrently since they’re so closely tied together, Ghosh said.

That’s a change from the 2017 campus master plan, which called for Illini Hall to be renovated rather than demolished.

Trustee Stuart King asked for assurances that the project would respect the historical and architectural significance of Altgeld Hall.

“Absolutely,” Ghosh said.

In other business

The UI is proposing a $75 million increase in its state funding for next year, with the bulk of the money once again going toward faculty recruitment and salaries and student financial aid.

If approved by trustees next week, the increase would give the UI $697 million in fiscal 2021, up 12 percent over its current general state appropriation.

The amount is roughly the difference between what the UI requested last year and what it ultimately received from the state, Executive Vice President Barbara Wilson told trustees Monday.

The $697 million would still fall below the UI’s fiscal 2015 state funding, adjusted for inflation, before the two-year state budget impasse took hold, she said.

Even with the proposed increase, she said, “we’re nowhere near where we were in the past,” she said.

The UI’s 2010 appropriation would exceed $900 million in current dollars, according to a chart she presented.

The budget proposal puts “a big emphasis” on expanding faculty ranks to meet growing student demand, Wilson said.

Enrollment has increased by 4,000 undergraduates across the UI system over the past five years, or 10 percent, but faculty hiring hasn’t kept pace, she said.

The three campuses combined had more than 3,400 faculty members in 2009, but that number dropped because of a retirement-incentive program and hiring constraints during lean budget years, she said.

Wilson noted that the UI is in the fifth year of a tuition freeze for undergraduates for in-state students, though rates for graduate and out-of-state students have gone up in that period.

The freeze has been an important part of the UI’s drive to make the cost of education more affordable, she said, but it has also limited new revenue for the UI’s three campuses.

As a result, the Urbana campus has lost ground to its peers in the Big Ten and nationally in terms of faculty-student ratios and faculty salaries, she said.

The budget request includes $10 million for hiring new professors and $50 million to improve faculty pay through general salary increases or targeted raises.

The plan is to hire 100 new professors a year for the next five years, on top of normal retirements and faculty departures, Wilson said.

Another $10 million would go toward undergraduate scholarships for Illinois residents.

Wilson said the UI now provides more scholarship funding to its students ($231 million) than state, federal and eternal sources combined ($206 million).

Wilson said officials haven’t decided whether to extend the tuition freeze for another year.

The proposed state funding request also includes $4.373 million for operation and maintenance costs in new buildings and for information technology and security upgrades.

Despite reaping a windfall last year under the first state capital bill in a decade, the UI is also seeking $725.5 million for various building projects fiscal 2021.

That includes $303.4 million for repairs and renovations, $181 million for academic libraries and $241.1 million for “innovation and workforce development” projects.

At Urbana, the latter includes $64.4 million for a “thinking and learning addition” for the School of Art & Design and $56.6 million for a Disability Research, Resources, Education Services Building.

Reporter/Columnist

Julie Wurth is a reporter covering the University of Illinois at The News-Gazette. Her email is jwurth@news-gazette.com, and you can follow her on Twitter (@jawurth).