INFRASTRUCTURE

Illinois universities investing big money in the future

SOURCE: tzm23/Shutterstock
University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. Illinois public universities are putting together a wish list of construction projects as the state prepares first capital bill in a decade.

As Illinois gears up for its first capital bill in nearly a decade, the state’s public universities are eyeing up the opportunity to gain investment, with many putting together a multi-billion dollar wish list. The anticipated windfall could open up a wealth of opportunity for contractors and service providers in the state.

According to Belleville News-Democrat, Nyle Robinson, Interim Director of the Illinois Board of Higher Education, submitted a list to lawmakers this week that included US$2.14 billion in total requests for new construction projects across the state’s higher education systems.

Having suffered a backlog of deferred maintenance requests since 2004, the majority of the spending is going towards simple upkeep of the state’s institutions with only a fraction going towards new builds. The original list totalled US$4 billion in requests but was drastically pared down to the current proposal.

Robinson said universities have had to use operating funds to address maintenance on state-owned buildings, and many have had to assess students with a “campus improvement” or “facility maintenance” fee.

“With minimal capital renewal funding and shrinking operational support since (fiscal year 2004), the backlog of deferred maintenance has ballooned from US$2.7 billion to US$6.7 billion,” Robinson said.

Illinois capital building. Source: Shutterstock

At the House Appropriations Committee, university heads testified to the deteriorating condition of some of their state-owned buildings, imploring the committee for the funds to fix the problem. While it’s a sorry state of affairs for the education system, it’s a world of opportunity for local contractors.

University of Illinois President Timothy Killeen officially requested US$722 million for the fiscal year 2020.

Illinois State University requested US$338 million. Northern Illinois University requested US$326 million for 11 projects. And the Southern Illinois University system – with campuses in Carbondale, Edwardsville, Alton, Springfield and East St Louis – requested US$412 million.

The largest of the construction projects is the Advanced Nursing Clinical Simulation and Applied Health Professions Centre in Edwardsville, which is expected to cost approximately US$37.5 million.

Eastern Illinois University President David Glassman requested US$145 million in total, claiming the university has needed a new science building since the 1990s as the current one is over 80 years old. He also complained of a failing HVAC system that has so far survived by “crossing our fingers, standing on one foot and lots and lots of duct tape.”

The bill will also direct funds towards fixing the state’s roads, bridges, public buildings and other infrastructure.  Senator Andy Manar and Senator Martin Sandoval have also made clear top priority will be given to ensuring minority- and women-owned businesses receive a proportional share of the contracts that are awarded.