New capital bill to provide upgrades to SIU

By Jacob Lorenz, Staff Reporter

On Wednesday, June 5, Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a capital bill that would give five percent extra of the budget to reinvest in higher education. According to John Charles, Executive Director for Government and Public Affairs, SIU will get $140 million in renovation construction divided amongst different departments.

Charles said $56 million would go towards maintenance of the campus. Some of the upgrades would include heating and air conditioning, fire alarms and the elevators on campus.

He said he is waiting to have conversations with the governor’s office and the capital development board about other projects that can be done with money left over from the capital bill.

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The Communications Building will get $83 million for additions and redevelopment, from the state, Charles said.

“A new building will be a significant improvement for climate in the building, better workspaces for everybody: faculty, staff, and students,” Dr. Deborah Tudor, Interim Dean of the College of Mass Communications and Media Arts, said.

Tudor said she recalled the plans to renovate the Communications Building in 2015, when SIU was said to be getting state appropriated money, but never did.

“It was lovely,” she said. “There was a beautiful new entrance; a big, well-lit hallway that spanned the length of the building; an office tower, about three or four stories.”

The 2015 plans put the office tower in the current courtyard in the middle of the Communication Building and had a new entrance facing the west campus dorms.

“Now that it’s back on the table, I’m thrilled,” Tudor said. “I just want to see what will develop from it; next, it’s such a great thing for our students.”

Tudor said some parts of the building, like the modernist columns, can be repurposed for other uses around campus, like bench seating.

“This [the plans] was designed to make foot traffic flow and finding things very easy,” she said.

The renovation to the communications building would improve the time it takes to get to classes in the Communications Building while having fewer twists and turns.

The $83 million would also include renovations and additions to the McLeod theater, which is housed in the Communications Building.

James Thomas Kidd, associate professor of directing/acting and former department chair, said there are five issues that he would consider the most significant problems that need addressing with the new renovations, one is a rehearsal hall.

The theater doesn’t have any space designated for rehearsal, Kidd said. Therefore, all rehearsals are on the stage, which can conflict with performing classes that also use the McLeod stage.

Another issue in the McLeod theater, Kidd said, is the staff communication system. The backstage and lighting production need better equipment to communicate back and forth during plays.

The costume shop was another pressing issue, according to Kidd. Moving the costume shop up from the basement and into a better space is needed.

“The basement floods and costume storage floods,” he said. “It needs better lighting.”

Something the department of theater doesn’t have is a computer lab. The lab can be for designers in the theater department, Kidd said.

The Communications Building got a large portion of the $140 million, but state appropriated money also will go to other departments in need, like a greenhouse for the College of Agricultural Sciences.

Charles said, the capital bill will give The College of Agricultural Sciences and the College of Science $2.54 million in state appropriation.

Karen Midden, interim dean of the College of Agricultural Sciences, said the departments will split the money to use on their greenhouses.

Midden said she has been pushing for a new greenhouse ever since they had to tear their greenhouse down in 2015 due to safety issues.

“When we thought we were getting the money and because of the safety, we tore ours down, so our greenhouse hasn’t existed for several years,” she said.

The college tore their greenhouse down because it was outdated and was becoming a safety hazard due to falling glass during storms, Midden said.

The College’s current greenhouse is in the university farms, in a small 10-by-15 foot space, and is used for research and classes.

“It’s an old one as well, but it’s better than nothing,” Midden said.

She said she believes student enrollment has been directly affected by the lack of a greenhouse.

“I’m not saying our education is any less, but it I think has really hurt a lot of hands on experiences for students in many fields,” Midden said. “Whereas that would prepare them for Illinois jobs in agriculture.”

She said she is very excited that the state is recognizing this as a critical issue. However, the price of greenhouses has gone up since 2015.

Midden said the price of a new greenhouse would be around $5 million opposed to the original cost of $3.6 million in 2015.

She said, “it’s not like ‘yay, we’re getting our greenhouses.’ It’s more like we’re getting some money to then go and talk to donors, and say ‘hey, look the state is supporting us, can you help us out?’”

The plans for the greenhouse would have it all under one roof, keeping it in the same place as the old greenhouse, adjacent to the Ag. Building.

The new greenhouse would be state-of-the-art teaching facility containing a classroom and flex space, a hydroponic system for soil-less plants, cold storage, quarantine space, propagation and nursery area, soil prep and workspaces, Midden said. A majority of the building will be the actual greenhouse.

With the five percent extra of the budget to reinvest in higher education from Gov. Pritzker, SIU faculty and staff are hopeful for the future of higher education in Illinois to be more of a priority to the state.

Staff reporter Jacob Lorenz can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @jtlorenz6.

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