Illinois Public Media News
The achievements of two Champaign-Urbana residents have won them the state of Illinois' highest honor.
The Order of Lincoln honor is bestowed on Illinoisans who have served their communities - since it originated in 1964, it's gone to people ranging from Ronald Reagan to Gwendolyn Brooks to Walter Payton.
In April, Governor Pat Quinn will give the award to Shahid Khan, the president of the Urbana auto component company Flex-n-Gate, and to Tim Nugent, who worked for decades to make the University of Illinois and the rest of the world more accessible to people with disabilities.
Other honorees at the Krannert Center ceremony will be Chicago arts philanthropists Richard and Mary Lackritz Gray, Northwestern university law professor and former state senator Dawn Clark Netsch, and Illinois Arts Council chair Shirley Madigan.
An effort to build a wind turbine on the University of Illinois campus will appear on the Board of Trustees' agenda during its March 23 meeting in Springfield.
The plan calls for a single wind turbine on the university's South Farms site. It was estimated to cost $4.5 million, but last week the university increased that value by $700,000. University spokesman Tom Hardy said a challenge confronting the U of I is finding a way to close that budget gap.
"Still a lot of work to do on this project, not the least of which is how to close a nearly $700,000 funding gap," Hardy said. "In the meantime, the turbine project will be presented for consideration by the full board."
Suhail Barot, the Committee Chair with the Student Sustainability Committee, said he met Tuesday afternoon with U of I President Michael Hogan. Barot said Hogan told him the energy project would move forward.
"He did ask us to look into finding whatever we can do to help cover the budget shortfalls," Barot said. "We will help with it, but we don't know to what degree."
Students at the University of Illinois have been talking about setting up a wind turbine on campus for the last several years. It was originally introduced in 2003 by Students for Environmental Concerns (SECS), who initiated a student fee to support clean energy. By 2008, then-Chancellor Richard Herman canceled the project because of budget concerns.
A $2 million grant from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation supporting the project needs to be used before it expires at the end of May 2011.
At its meeting next month, the Board of Trustees is expected to vote on a contract with an energy company hired to build the turbine.
Champaign County residents have raised concerns about the project's cost, shadows produced by the turbine throughout the day, and the amount of noise pollution that would be generated.
The Champaign Unit 4 School District is mulling over the idea of building a new school to relieve overcrowding at Central High School.
The school board held the fourth public meeting Monday night to discuss the project, this time including board members of the Champaign City Council and the city's park district.
Seven sites are being considered to house the new school. Four of the sites are near the north end of Prospect Avenue, two are west of First Street and south of Windsor Avenue, and one is west of I-57 in Northwest Champaign. Each location is roughly 60- to 80-acres. Lynn Stuckey, a parent of a Central High School student, said wherever a new school is built, location is key.
"Frankly, I'm not in favor of a new high school given the locations that I've seen," Stuckey said. "I live four blocks away from Central High School. I like the location, and I think we can do more to keep our school in the middle of our community."
School board President Dave Tomlinson said the seven sites are being reviewed based on population growth and proximity to public transportation. Tomlinson added that the board is still gathering input from the community, and has not made a final decision on how it will proceed.
"We need more people to give us input...because we're not going to make the best decision we can unless we have the right input," Tomlinson said.
If a new school is built, voters would have to approve a tax referendum of at least $50 million to begin construction.
Feedback about the project can be e-mailed to CentralComments@ChampaignSchools.org
The manager at Willard Airport says commercial flights there won't be affected by the possible closure of the U of I's Institute of Aviation.
Steve Wanzek likely the biggest impact would be the downgrading of the airport's control tower, since 90-percent of the takeoffs and landings are pilots in training through the U of I. On Thursday, university administrators recommended that the Institute close once current students complete their degrees, or by the spring of 2014.
Wanzek said the Federal Aviation Administration could lose a few jobs at Willard, as well as training opportunities.
"A hundred-thousand activities in a non-O'Hare (International Airport) environment is a lot of activity, and they get a lot of exposure for trainees here," Wanzek said. "And that opportunity for the FAA will diminish as the institute slows down and if it goes away."
But Wanzek said the potential closing of Aviation won't affect Willard's efforts to construct a new tower, which he said should be finished by the end of next year. Meanwhile, the President at Flightstar hopes to make up for a loss of about $100-thousand in revenue that the Institute brings his facility each year - if it does close by 2014. Bill Giannetti said the loss is significant, but his business will survive. Flightstar does maintenance and charter flight service at the airport.
Giannetti said it is a shame that the Institute of Aviation and its deteriorating buildings have gone neglected by the U of I for years.
"My fear is the Institute will shut down, the FAA will build a new control tower, so we'll have a number of buildings that are going to be empty, going into a state of neglect, kind of like what we've seen with some of the buildings in Rantoul," Giannetti said. "These are old buildings. They really, at some point, needs to be demolished."
Gianetti said he had hoped the U of I would construct a new facility for Aviation, making it competitive with other schools that have better facilities.
Illinois' economy is not growing yet, but it's one point closer to doing so, according to the University of Illinois's Flash Index.
The monthly reading of the state economy was at 95.9 in January, up from 94.9 in December. Any number below 100 reflects economic contraction. But U of I Economist Fred Giertz said the Index has shown gradual improvement over the past eight months.
"This is one of the bigger jumps," Giertz said. "Any one month, you have to be careful about it - it could be an anomaly. But it's going in the direction that's expected, of a substantial increase, which is what's happening at the national level."
Giertz referred to national economic figures, which showed a sharp drop in the unemployment rate in January, even though job growth was weak. Illinois's 9.3% unemployment rate for December was slightly better than the national rate of 9.4% --- although Giertz said both were high, considering the improving economy. Now that the national rate has fallen to 9%, Giertz said he wants to see how the new state numbers stand in comparison, when they're released in about a week.
The Flash Index is based on Illinois tax revenues. Giertz said January's improvement was due to growth in state income and sales tax receipts, rather than corporate taxes.
The University of Illinois' Interim Chancellor and Provost have proposed that the Institute of Aviation be closed, following suit with recommendations made by a faculty committee.
In a letter distributed around campus this afternoon, Vice President and Interim Chancellor Robert Easter said, "As an institution, we must examine carefully our core missions and determine how to support and enhance those missions so that we may best serve our students, the state and society. We have arrived at the difficult conclusion that closing the Institute best serves those interests."
The letter was also signed by Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Interim Provost Richard Wheeler.
Administrators will ask that the Faculty Senate's Educational Policy Committee hold a public hearing on the proposal. After last September's 'Stewarding Excellence' review, the U of I's Illinois Business Consulting Group was asked to evaluate the marketability of a stand-alone and self-supporting flight certification program. The IBC concluded that there wasn't sufficient demand to support the expansion of such a program. Last year, Easter estimated the university could save up to $750,000 a year by closing the program.
The Interim Director of the Institute of Aviation, Tom Emanuel, said the news did not come as a surprise.
"There have been some restrictions to our enrollment, and the fact that all the faculty were taken from the program (and moved to other departments) by central administration a year or so ago," he said. "That left us in a pretty precarious situation, I mean, how can you have a program without a faculty base?"
The courses are now being taught by academic professionals and faculty from other departments. Aviation currently has about 160 students. Emanuel said he will suggest merging Aviation with another department when the Faculty Senate's committee meeting is held, which requires 30 days' notice. March 8th has been set as a tenative hearing date.. U of I administrators have guaranteed that current students would be allowed to complete the program, so the Institute of Aviation wouldn't be eliminated until the spring of 2014 at the earliest.
The president of the University of Illinois says if it were up to him, faculty and staff would get raises in the years to come.
Many U of I employees have had to deal with flat salaries for the past two years, and most also had to take unpaid furlough days last year. But U of I president Michael Hogan says an administrative review and restructuring program has already lead to five million dollars in savings, and it will pay off in the longer term.
"I feel confident, with the reforms we're putting in place and with other measures we've taken, that we'll begin to see enough of a kitty of money that we can begin certainly avoiding furlough days and begin reinvesting in our faculty, not just in raises but hopefully in new appointments and new hires," Hogan said in an interview and call-in show Wednesday night on Illinois Public Media.
Hogan frequently voiced his displeasure with the backlog in state funding. He says budgeting would be much more accurate without more than $400 million the state of Illinois owes the University, including $60 million in scholarship money through the Monetary Award Program, or MAP, the state- sponsored scholarship program for students in need.
As part of an administrative restructuring plan at the University of Illinois, U of I President Michael Hogan has named two new vice presidents.
Lawrence Schook, who works in the Department of Animal Sciences on the Urbana campus, will serve as the vice president for Research. Meanwhile, U-I-C's Vice Chancellor of Research, Joe Garcia, has been named as the Vice President of Health Affairs.
"We can be proud that the University of Illinois has within its faculty and administration scholars with as much relevant leadership experience as Larry and Skip to step into these key roles at such a crucial time for the University," Hogan said in a prepared statement.
Both will serve on an interim basis while a search begins to find their permanent replacements. The University of Illinois' Board of Trustees approved the creation of the two vice president positions last November.
For only the third time in 30-plus years, the University of Illinois has canceled classes on the Urbana campus.
The decision Tuesday night for the Wednesday class schedule comes amid a severe winter storm that has dropped several inches of sleet and snow on east-central Illinois by late Tuesday evening. Wind and visibility conditions have deteriorated in rural parts of Champaign County enough for the Emergency Operations Center to pull county highway crews off rural roadways starting at 11pm. EOC spokesman Rick Atterbury said plowing should resume at daybreak.
Even though U of I classes are canceled for Wednesday, the University says the campus will remain officially open. Employees who don't know whether they should report to work should consult their supervisor or University policy on essential employees.
Plans for a wind turbine on the University of Illinois' Urbana campus could be in jeopardy if a funding plan isn't in place by Monday.
U of I Sustainability Coordinator Morgan Johnston said it needs to be set by then to place the item on the March agenda for the university's Board of Trustees. She said without that notice, bids for the project will expire, and a $2-million grant from the Illinois Clean Energy Foundation could also be lost. The U of I is seeking an additional $700,000 for the project, a cost Johnston said the U of I's Student Sustainability can handle. The proposed $4-point-5 million project now exceeds $5-million.
"They do have funds available right now that they're allocating for which projects to spend that money on this year," Johnston said. "What we're asking is that they would, rather than support new projects and additional projects, commit that $700,000 to this project to make it to be able to move forward."
Johnston said the U of I will provide more detail later this week on why it's seeking the additional funding.
Urbana City Council member Eric Jakobsson has been an advocate of the wind turbine project, but says he can't support the additional cost.
"It's all, in a certain sense, public money," Jakobsson said. "So the heart of my question was, how do you justify spending public money in a manner that is cost ineffective, especially when everybody is being either to pay more taxes or to tighten their belts?"
The Student Sustainability Committee is already putting half a million dollars into the project. Amy Allen, President of Students for Environmental Concerns, said that should be the limit.
"They've met their commitment to this project," she said. "We want to work with the University to get this done, but it's their responsibility to find that money."
Members with the student committee are requesting a meeting with the U of I's President and Urbana Chancellor about the turbine cost, including items that they don't think should be included in the project.
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