Illinois Public Media News
The University of Illinois plans to use nearly $1 million in federal stimulus money on a center to train people to improve the energy efficiency of low-income residents' homes.
The university says it received a more than $959,000 grant for the Illinois Home Weatherization Assistance Program. It will be run by the university's Building Research Council. The council already offers classes on weatherizing homes.
Council instructor Paul Francisco says the money will help train workers to improve home energy efficiency.
A study of the spread of West Nile virus shows it has a new culprit.
A team of researchers from the University of Illinois says robins are unwittingly spreading the virus after being bitten by mosquitoes carrying it. Professor Jeff Brawn heads the U of I's Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences. Unlike crows and jays, which die when they get the disease, he says some robins survive when bitten by an infected mosquito. And Brawn says that's a problem in urban environments. "They seem to be to amplify the virus in their bloodstream but they don't die from it at a real high rate," said Brawn. "So you've got a common bird that the mosquitoes prefer, and one that the virus seems to do very well in, too."
Brawn and a team of U of I researchers are tracking West Nile in Chicago's southwest suburbs. The group has been able to detect what mosquitoes have been feeding on through DNA samples. Brawn says if another mosquito bites a robin, the mosquito gets the virus and can then transmit it to another host, possibly another bird or human. He suggests wearing long sleeve shirts, minimizing outdoor time from dusk to dawn, and using insect repellent this summer to avoid the illness. "It's not like robins are the enemy, and if you see one, you're going to get West Nile virus," said Brawn. "It's just that robins are species that seems to be involved in kind of a epidemiology of the virus."
Brawn's study includes several institutions, including Michigan State and Emory University. It's funded by the National Science Foundation.
As one University of Illinois report released last week looked at potential cost savings, another sought out ways to bring in money.
The chair of the committee looking at revenue generation says it was important to investigate ways to improve the Urbana campus' financial situation without cuts. College of Education Dean Mary Kalintzas says it will take a shift in the university's thinking to find income sources outside state tax money.
"We have a public purpose, we do research, we do teaching," Kalintzas said. "But we have intellectual capital that sometimes faculty capitalize on and commercialize, or other people take on and commercialize. But we've been so focused on breakthrough research and teaching that we have in the past thought that it's not our job, or it's an extra job, to take on the commercialization of the knowledge that we generate."
Kalintzas says it may take changes in state law to let the U of I get more return from its intellectual property. She says loosening those state-imposed limits may also help jump-start an online education program after the ill-fated Global Campus project. At the top of the committee's list of recommendations is an increase in out-of-state student enrollment while keeping the number of in-state U of I students level.
Information Technology could be the first area at the University of Illinois to see some cost reductions under a 3-year plan to reduce expenses by about $60 million.
Former U of I administrator Craig Bazzani co-chaired the Administrative Review and Restructuring Working Group. He says Information Technology, costing about $300 million annually, brought the most obvious concerns. Bazzani says only a third of that supports central computing operations on the U of I's three campuses, as well as the administration and university hospital. He says that leaves a lot of opportunities for consolidation among data centers... potentially saving on equipment, energy costs, space... and personnel. "If we can become more system-itized in renewing all our desktop equipment at essentially a scheduled basis, we made an estimate for example we might be able to reduce 50 people who simply would not be needed to support the maintenance on desktops," said Bazzani. "So I.T. is one area I would point to for lots of opportunities for consolidation - a fresh look at new technology."
Bazzani's group said the school could save about $18 million in information technology functions. Another targeted area of the review is administration. Bazzani suggests reductions in the number of vice chancellors and assistants, saying the the three campuses need as many as are necessary, but as few as possible. "It's unimaginable that we would ask faculty and students to do more before we really have an opportunity to really deal with handling administrative costs in a better way," said Bazzani. "That was a clear signal from the president and the chancellors directly that we order and demonstrate things in a way to the academy that they feel comfortable before tuition goes up another nickel that we address some of these other problems."
Bazzani says it's often difficult for administrators to do their own internal review, but notes the U of I will need some outside help to deal with changes in the state's pension laws and how they affect human resources. "But to create a blueprint, it was our judgment that we know our culture best, we have an enormous number of content experts inside the university, many talented creative faculty and staff, and gave them the opportunity to step back in a very independent way, a very unbrideled way, to give us the best professional advice about where we see things moving in the next five years."
And he says while his panel is respectful of the academic differences between each U of I campus, members want to find ways to make administrators more compatible between the three cities. U of I Interim President Stanley Ikenberry will lead an implementation team to begin considering these and other changes. Bazzani says administration is moving quickly on the plan - and savings could be seen in as soon as two years.
A researcher at Mayo Clinic says a new collaboration with the University of Illinois will enable his facility to interpret the school's research.
The alliance impacting clinical research, bioengineering, and diagnostics has been in the works for about 18 months. Eric Wieben is Director of Mayo's Advanced Genomics Technology Center. He says the two entities complement one another well. For Wieben's line of work, he says DNA sequencing instruments are turning out more data each time they're used. Wieben says an institution like the U of I will improve care for patients by reading more than a billion letters of DNA code in one hour. "Mayo has a lot of patient information and samples that are in the queue for DNA sequencing," says Wieben. "The University of Illinois has world-renowned computing resources and the people who know how to use those to effectively make knowledge out of large amounts of data."
A Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the U of I, Rashid Bashir, says the goal of an alliance between the two is improving individualized medicine. The partnership will focus on computer-based skills, like tissue engineering. Bashir says this partnership could result in facilities that detect different markers of disease by feeding data through a digital network. He says the two parties have already received about 30 requests from researchers to work on the project, but that number could be growing. "We really hope that it will be open to any and all researchers from the University of Illinois and any researchers and physicians from Mayo Clinic," said Bashir. "Some partnerships have already initiated and we hope many more will come. So it's really kind of an umbrella agreement that gets the two institutions to work together towards these grant challenges for health care."
Both the U of I and Mayo Clinic are placing some seed money into the alliance, but Bashir says the majority of the work will rely on federal grant applications. The U of I and Mayo Clinic will each put some seed funds for the project, but the collaborators will seek out federal grants for most of their research. Mayo Clinic has three campuses, operating in Minnesota, Florida, and Arizona.
Illinois' financial uncertainty has prompted a lot of school districts to move to one-year contracts for teachers.
But a union spokesman says that's not the case in East Central Illinois. The Illinois Education Association's Gene Vanderport says the districts in the area have been pretty fair to those he represents. He says there have been a lot of early settlements with multi-year contracts, including Urbana, and he expects those in Gifford and Rantoul City Schools to settle soon as well. But Vanderport admits it's been a struggle for most school districts. "Nobody's getting rich in public education, that's for sure,"said Vanderport. "We're down to absolute bare minimum of people doing the services that need to be done, to educate the kids. We're not making Buicks, we're educating brains, and it takes X number of people to do that. School boards recognize that we gotta keep feeding our families, and they've been relatively decent across the board in recognizing our needs."
Still, Vanderport says his union and others are trying to settle without asking for too much, while urging state and federal lawmakers to work on a consistent and sustainable school funding formula. "That's why we're for progressive funding mechanisms that aren't in place at this point," said Vanderport. "And we hope to continue to lobby for those, and make those issues election-year issues." Vanderport says negotiations with Champaign teachers are still taking a while. The two sides have been bargaining since January, and he says salary and benefits remain the sticking points. Vanderport says Champaign Unit 4 schools and his union should wrap up talks by August, but he says it's hard to say what the length of the contract will be.
The University of Illinois is scrapping plans to spend nearly $100,000 on a sculpture of university President Stanley Ikenberry. U of I spokesman Thomas Hardy says Ikenberry called off the project this week shortly after the Chicago Tribune began asking questions about it. But Hardy would not talk on tape with WILL Radio, saying he felt the Tribune was trying to make a news story out of something that wasn't worth the attention. Hardy did say the $98,000 project was a fraction of the cost of the $75 million Ikenberry Commons residence hall project. The university originally planned to hang the sculpture in the dining hall that's opening this fall. The art was to be paid for with student housing fees.
The Tribune reports that the school hadn't yet signed a contract, but university officials had filed paper work with the state to justify the no-bid, $98,000 purchase. The U of I had reportedly planned to award the project to Urbana-based sculptor Peter Fagan. Hardy says Ikenberry stopped the plan because he didn't want to generate any ill will. The expenditure would have come amid a budget crisis that's led university officials to furlough employees and raise tuition. Hardy says private funding of the sculpture could be explored at later.
A small central Illinois school district says the company that supplies bread for its lunches has declined to bid to for a new contract because of the state government's financial mess.
Superintendent Bruce Owen of the Unit 30 school district in Dieterich says Lewis Bakeries of Indiana cited the state's slow rate of providing appropriated money.
Dieterich is in Effingham County, about 70 miles south of Champaign. The two-school district has just under 500 students.
School districts and other state-dependent institutions have been waiting for months on money the state has promised but says it can't provide.
Illinois' state government is facing a $13 billion budget deficit.
Owen says no other companies bid for the contract. The district may have to buy its own bread from local bakeries.
The Champaign School Board received a promise of a classroom boycott if the new Booker T. Washington School project on the north side goes ahead without significant changes.
Terry Townsend and Robert Brownlee say the new Washington School's parking requirements and bus traffic will cause congestion. Townsend says he fears the school will lead to forced buyouts of homes to make room for parking, and higher property taxes that will lead to gentrification.
"They're going to force poor people out of their homes", says Townsend. "They're going to make it so it's very difficult for people that live there to continue to live there. And it's changing the character of that neighborhood.
Townsend wants a smaller Washington School to be built, and guarantees that neighborhood children be guaranteed seats in the new school. He says if the district doesn't change its plans, he'll organize a classroom boycott for the first week of school in August. But Champaign school board members are defending the new Washington School plans. Vice-President Susan Grey says the building will be an asset that local residents can use themselves.
"It can be a place for gatherings and community meetings", says Grey. "And I would certainly hate to think that the community in the Douglass Park area would think that we wouldn't want to open our school for community use. Because I think we will."
Meanwhile, the Champaign School Board approved bids Monday night for eight of the ten construction contracts for the new Washington School. The other two contracts came in over budget, and the district is downsizing some of its building plans in hopes of attracting lower bids.
Architects for the new north side school presented proposals last (Monday) night for using cheaper building materials in some parts of the new building, in the hopes of shaving 1-point-7 million dollars off the building's cost. Board member Greg Novak endorsed the changes --- but he warned against going too far.
"I mean the fact that we never did the grading we were going to do at Barkstall", says Novak. "It's come back to haunt us. There's been some things at Stratton that have come back to haunt us. So in some ways, I understand we need to make some cuts, and we need to do some trimming. And in some ways, I don't want to go too far in that direction."
Unit Four school board members voted unanimously to accept eight construction bids, while rejecting two. Changes will be made to the two outstanding projects, to make sure those two projects are less expensive, before resubmitting them for bids.
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.
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