pritzker visit

Gov. JB Pritzker at a press conference at the Champaign Public Works building in Champaign on Wednesday, July 3, 2019.

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URBANA — A $100 million investment in a quantum engineering project designed to make Illinois a world leader in that emerging technology is among $3 billion in higher education allocations in the new Rebuild Illinois infrastructure plan.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker, key legislators and state university presidents gathered Wednesday at the Illini Union to celebrate the $45 billion state capital plan — the first in a decade. Funded by tax increases and new user fees, it will send more than $3 billion to colleges and universities over the next six years for projects ranging from library renovations to new science buildings to long-deferred maintenance.

Pritzker said the $100 million allocated to the quantum engineering project will “attract some of the greatest researchers to our state.”

“If you think about what happened in Silicon Valley 50 years ago, that’s what could happen right here in Illinois,” he said.

Last fall, the UI’s Urbana campus joined the Chicago Quantum Exchange, a partnership with the University of Chicago, Argonne National Laboratory and the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory to explore quantum technology, a field of physics that studies subatomic particles. Based on the particles’ ability to exist in more than one state at a time, quantum computing could revolutionize communications and create “unhackable” networks, experts say.

The $100 million will go toward multiple research facilities and lab equipment in Chicago and at the UI’s Urbana campus, officials said Wednesday.

UI Provost Andreas Cangellaris said the money will be used to build a “globally competitive center for science and technology for quantum information. Some of the equipment we need has to be built from scratch.”

The hope is that the state’s investment will attract funding from the Department of Energy and other federal agencies as well as industry partners.

It will “make this state the center of gravity for a revolution in quantum science and information that is going to redefine this century in the same way that computation and digital technology did in the previous one,” said Chancellor Robert Jones.

The same model was used to advance the UI’s leadership in supercomputing, leading to the creation of the National Center for Supercomputing Applications.

“We brought (John) Bardeen in the last century. We’re going to bring Bardeen for quantum in the 21st century,” Cangellaris said.

NCSA Director William Gropp said quantum computing won’t replace supercomputing but augment it.

“It’s not just going to be a better way to do things we’re doing now. It’s going to give us ways to do things that we haven’t been able to solve at all,” he said.

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Pritzker also highlighted the UI-led Discovery Partners Institute in Chicago and the statewide Illinois Innovation Network. In questions following Wednesday’s press event, Pritzker said the initial state appropriations for those projects should be “forthcoming,” though he didn’t have a timeline.

The state approved $500 million for the public-private initiative a year ago under former Gov. Bruce Rauner, but Pritzker later made that contingent on matching funds from the private sector. The UI says it has secured about $400 million toward that goal, though that includes about $230 million in university discretionary funds, typically made up of private gifts, endowment income, overhead from research grants, student fees and tuition.

“The Discovery Partners Institute was a terrific idea. My concern about it, that I expressed during the campaign, was that there had been a promise that there would be private funding to go with the public funding,” Pritzker said Wednesday. “That didn’t happen, and yet there was a $500 million appropriation anyway from state government. So what I said was, well we need the private sector to catch up.

“I have to say tremendous progress has been made by the University of Illinois to do that.”

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Overall, Rebuild Illinois will bring $395 million to the Urbana campus, including $43.2 million for the renovation of Altgeld Hall for a math, statistics and data science facility, Jones said. The money will also address $195 million in deferred renovations and updates across campus, he said.

Pritzker and the university presidents said the capital plan and $50 million in new operations funding for state universities — the largest “since the start of the millennium,” according to UI President Tim Killeen — will help reverse a student “outmigration” that has seen nearly half of Illinois high school graduates attend universities in other states.

“We’re rebuilding the public’s confidence in our state’s colleges and universities as world-class institutions that they are,” Pritzker said. “We want our brightest minds to stay here.”

Nearly 70 percent of Illinois students who attend college out of state never come back to Illinois, he said. But more than 90 percent of those who go to Illinois schools stay, officials said.

The state budget will also improve access to college through expanded funding for the Aim High scholarship program for Illinois middle-income families and for the need-based Monetary Award Program grants, said state Rep. Carol Ammons, D-Champaign.

The capital plan includes $35 million for a new library student learning center at the UI Springfield, $98 million for a computer design research center at UI Chicago, $118.8 million for a new science building at Eastern Illinois University, $89 million for a renovation of Illinois State’s Milner Library, $83 million for a communications building at SIU-Carbondale and $15.8 million for a new nursing lab at Chicago State University.

The $680 million for construction and deferred maintenance at community colleges includes $100,000 for a chemistry lab renovation at Parkland College.

State Sen. Scott Bennett, D-Champaign, said funding for the capital bill and operating budget ultimately comes from taxpayers, so lawmakers have to be “good stewards.” But he and other legislators repeatedly called the higher education grants an investment, not a spending program.

“Every dollar Springfield sends to the University of Illinois” puts $4 back into the state’s economy, Bennett said. “This is how you invest in the future success of our state.”

Legislators praised the work of the bipartisan higher education legislative working group for pushing ahead with priorities for colleges and universities in the midst of the two-year state budget impasse, including the Aim High scholarship program.

Ammons also said the Rebuild Illinois program includes measures to ensure “workforce diversity” to open participation in capital projects to women, people of color and individuals with disabilities.

Also speaking at Wednesday’s event were Illinois State University President Larry Dietz, Chicago State University President Zaldwaynaka “Z” Scott and interim SIU President Kevin Dorsey.

News-Gazette

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).