Illinois Public Media News

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - October 14, 2010

The University of Illinois’ Partnership with India

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Interim Chancellor Robert Easter recently returned from a week-long trip to India. Easter met with university, business, and government officials to discuss research partnerships in areas ranging from agriculture, to information technologies, to climate change. He also talked about the prospects of opening a campus in India, and opportunities for graduate education.

There are about 400 undergraduate and more than 460 graduate students from India currently studying at the U of I. Illinois Public Media's Sean Powers spoke to Easter about the relationship developing between India and the University of Illinois.

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AP - Illinois Public Media News - October 06, 2010

Preservationists Are Upset As U of I Begins Work on 1870’s Farmhouse

Preservationists say the University of Illinois failed to follow the proper procedure when going ahead with work on an 1870's farmhouse.

Urbana Campus Historic Preservation Officer Melvin Skvarla said the U of I decided to use $91,000 in residual money to remove the century old additions to Mumford House, based on an architect's recommendation.

Skvarla said that report has been online since early this year.

"The intent was to return the house to its original condition," said Skvarla. "That was stated over and over again - following the recommendations of (architect) Vinci Hamp. The 1892 south addition is probably worse shape than the entire house. The 1922 edition is not even compatible with the rest of the house."

A spokesman for Illinois' Historic Preservation Agency said the U of I never bothered to discuss these plans with an advisory committee appointed by the school's board of trustees. Dave Blanchette said the university should have let that panel weigh in.

"That was the entire reason for forming the advisory committee was to work hand-in-hand with the university to make sure the historic Mumford House was adequately protected," said Blanchette. "To make everyone aware in advance what was planned, and what was going to be done, and let everyone agree to a course of action. We have not had that in the last couple of days."

Urbana Historic Preservation Commission Chair Alice Novak contends removing the additions hurts the structure's historical significance.

"The west side addition is particularly nice in offering living room space, it has a large fireplace, it had a bevel glass window which was removed Wednesday morning, and I don't know where that's going," said Novak. "So if we're interested in really seeing the house used and marketed, it really would be prudent to leave those additions on there."

Novak said the additions were added by Dean Herbert Mumford around the 1900, when his family lived in the house, and are significant to the building.

The $91,000 will also go for painting and weatherization. Skvarla said a full restoration will cost one and a half million dollars, and he said there are no further plans for Mumford House when the current work is done late this month.

Landmarks Illinois President Jim Peters sits on the U of I's advisory panel for the structure. He agrees with Novak that the additions could have been utilized in some sort of reuse plan, but he said if ultimately, the U of I wants to restore Mumford House to its 1871 state, removing the additions may have been the best plan.

(Photo by Jeff Bossert/WILL)

Categories: Architecture, Education

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - September 21, 2010

The Impact of Farm Aid on the Nation’s Farmers

This week marks the anniversary of one of the largest efforts to raise money for the nation's farmers, who in 1985 were battling lower land values and higher interest rates. Illinois Public Media's Sean Powers looks at how this benefit concert has helped small family farms in the last 25 years.

(Photo by Sean Powers/WILL)

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Categories: Architecture, Community, Music

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - September 20, 2010

A Look Back at Farm Aid

Twenty five years ago this week, the Champaign area was all about Farm Aid. The 12-hour event in Champaign, Illinois featured more than 40 acts, including organizers Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp, and Neil Young. It drew in more than $9 million dollars to help the nation's struggling farmers. But beyond raising money, Illinois Public Media's Sean Powers reports that the concert helped shed light on the challenges facing farmers in the 1980s.

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AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 14, 2010

U of I Develops Quick Plans To Accommodate Displaced Students and Research

The University of Illinois is enacting a short-term plan to accommodate classes in areas like geology and biology that take place in the Natural History Building.

A recent inspection of termite damage determined that concrete was incorrectly poured when the structure's 1908 addition was built, that meant vacating that part of the building, leaving behind lots of research materials. Clark Wise is Director of Construction Management for U of I Facilities and Services. With the fall semester about six weeks away, he's requested that administrators waive competitive bidding laws for contractors, which the state allows in an emergency. Wise says just over $1 million will allow his staff to stabilize concrete slabs long enough to move research and other classroom equipment to another part of the building, or elsewhere on campus. But Wise says a permanent plan for the Natural History Building will take some time.

"We're starting to just have discussions now on what the permanent solution would be to this portion of the building," said Wise. "And does it make good sense for us just to repair the structural slabs, or should we have a more comprehensive renovation of that area that would take in deffered maintenance and other items that are present currently." Operations Manager for the U of I's School of Earth, Society, and Environment, Scott Morris, says he's confident materials will be moved in time for classes, but says it could be two to three years before repair work on the Natural History Building is complete.

The 1908 addition had to be vacated on June 10th. Wise says other buildings are being remodeled to accommodate all those who were displaced, including about 25 graduate students. But Wise says he's pleasantly surprised the U of I didn't have to rent out additional space.

Categories: Architecture, Education

AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 14, 2010

More Than 100-Year Old Construction Problem At U of I Leaves Research, Fall Classes in Limbo

A University of Illinois Geology Professor says the discovery of a century-old construction problem in the Natural History Building produces lingering ones for research, and fall classes. Inspections of termite damage last week showed metal reinforcements were improperly placed on the building's addition in 1908. There's no time estimate yet for repairing the building.

Stephen Marshak directs the U of I's School of Earth, Society, and Environment. He says a few summer classes had to be moved immediately to another part of the building. Marshak also questions how lab research will continue when staff can't gain access, and that a lot of lab materials are delicate, and can't be easily moved. Marshak says if part of the building is still closed this fall, classes with a lot of students will have to move as well. "So we're thinking of reconfiguring some rooms that are being used for other purposes in the stable part of the building to accomodate some of the geology classes in the fall," said Marshak. "We're not going to be able to set those up though until they give us the go ahead to actually move cabinets of rock specimens and cabinets of maps and things that we need access to. And right now, we're told that we're not allowed to move those yet."

Marshak says the U of I's Facilities and Services Department will determine when materials can be moved and where. Meanwhile, Marshak several offices are looking for a place to move to. He says until his staff knows what the time frame is for repairs to the building, departments will wait until moving their research to other rooms. Marshak estimates about 25 graduate students have been displaced.

Categories: Architecture, Education

AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 10, 2010

Champaign Park District Opts For New Virginia Theatre Marquee

One of those responsible for changing the marquee on Champaign's Virginia Theatre says it needs to be recognized as more than a place for showing movies. Champaign Park District Board member Barbara Kuhl favors replacing the sign to make the theatre look more like a vaudeville house, as it appeared in 1921. Board members voted 3-2 for replacing the marquee that's been there since the 40's. Kuhl also says the current one needed replacing anyway. "The current marquee will be taken down and destroyed. It cannot be refurbished," said Kuhl. "So the question was not 'will there be a new marquee?'... it was just 'what was the shape of the new marquee going to be."

Those favoring the change say a new sign would show off more of the upper-level façade and original architecture. Urban planner Alice Novak says there's no doubt the Virginia is a beautiful building, but argues the park district is changing the most defining feature. Kuhl says the public opposition to changing the sign was blown out of proportion. But Novak says there was an obvious public sentiment for retaining the marquee, and the park district board chose to ignore it. "So I think that's very disappointing," said Novak. "And I don't know what the long-lasting implications of that kind of bad policy will be."

Novak sits on Illinois' Historic Sites Advisory Council, which reviews nominations to the National Register of Historic Places. Park District Board members contend the new marquee won't change that eligibility. But Novak says once the old one comes down - she'll submit photos of the Virginia to the rest of her group to consider a change. Champaign Park District Board President Jane Solon says she initially would have preferred the Virginia's next marquee be a combination of refurbishing the existing one, with features from the original sign's 1921 design. But she says public opposition convinced her that the best marquee was the one currently in place. "You can't marry two periods together and create a new that's not the best thing to do," says Solon. "So from a historical perspective and from what citizens had said they preferred, I then became in favor of keeping the triangle marquee."

Both board members say they hope the marquee change will be done when other renovations to the theater are completed. The Virginia closes next week for upgrades to its entrances and lobby, and re-opens in November. A million dollar bequest from the estate of Michael Carragher is funding that work, while ticket sales and other private donations are paying for the new marquee.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 31, 2010

State Can’t Rule On Virginia Theatre’s Marquee Decision, But Remains Hopeful For the Status Quo

The state doesn't have a say as to whether the Champaign Park District replaces the marquee on the Virginia Theatre.

A spokesman for the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency says things will stay that way, as long as no state or federal permits or funding is involved in any potential work. But the agency is still recommending to the Park District Board that the current marquee stay in place, rather than replace it with a replica of the original from 1921. The Virginia Theater is on the National Register of Historic Places, and its current sign was on the nomination form when it was listed. Historic Agency spokesman Dave Blanchette says the building itself is significant, with or without the sign.

"However, our removing a historic feature from the building such as the marquee would impact its historic integrity in our opinion," said Blanchette. "It probably would not jeopardize its National Register of Historic Places listing, but nontheless, it's a historic feature of the building which we think needs to retained." Blanchette says the 1940's marquee adds to the historic character of the building. Champaign's historic preservation commission is opposed to changing it to a replica of what it once looked like. The city's park district board expects to take up the issue again June 9th.

Categories: Architecture

AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 28, 2010

Park District—- Cost of Restoring Virginia Marquee Comarable to Building Replica of Original

In the controversy over a new marquee sign for the Virginia Theater, the Champaign Park board has learned that there's little difference in cost between rebuilding the current neon marquee and constructing a replica of the original marquee from the 1920s.

In fact, a company specializing in theater marquees told the park district that rebuilding the yellow, neon, triangular and badly deteriorated Virginia marquee could cost 140 to 160 thousand dollars. Meanwhile, bids for building a replica of the original, white, rectangular marquee range from 158 to 270-thousand dollars.

Park District Marketing Director Laura Auteberry says that at their May meeting, park commissioners want to see more detailed, color renderings of the original marquee replica, so they can better compare it next month with the current marquee that has attracted some vocal defenders.

"Because a lot of the comments we've received from the community is they like the neon, they like the color, that that really stands out when people are going by", says Auteberry. "So we're going to provide that in the way of a rendering, so it gives people a better vision --- between the two --- of which would look better on the building."

At a study session Wednesday , four of the five park commissioners said they personally prefer the original marquee from the 20s, but don't want to go against popular opinion if it truly favors the current marquee. Work on the marquee would be part of the renovation of the Virginia Theater lobby, scheduled for June through November.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 02, 2010

Contract Bid Awarded, Lincoln Hall Renovation to Begin This Month

The bid has been awarded, and the long-awaited transformation of one of the University of Illinois' most-used buildings should be underway by the end of the month.

On Tuesday the state awarded the largest bid for the $66 million project to a Peoria contractor. That clears the way for work to begin on Lincoln Hall, which has been empty for more than a year because of deteriorating conditions.

Joe Vitosky is with the U of I's Office of Capital Programs and Real Estate Services. He says when Lincoln Hall is finished in the summer of 2012, it will be a completely upgraded facility.

"Classrooms on the first and second floors, with offices on the third and fourth floors," Vitosky said, listing the changes. "The closed backstage area of the theatre will be converted to a new classroom. We'll have office space on all four floors, we'll replace the floor, ceiling and wall finishes, abate asbestos materials, and we'll be purchasing movable equipment."

But Vitosky says the theater and lecture hall which hosted thousands of U of I students over its 100-year history will still be there.

The U of I unsuccessfully tried to get the classroom facility updated for more than a decade until state lawmakers funded it last year as part of a capital construction program. Vitosky says despite remaining questions over how the state will fund the capital bill, the money is in hand.


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