SJR Column: Campus Renovations, August 2018

Though summertime at the University of Illinois Springfield entails a variety of both educational and recreational pursuits, the end of the academic year and the arrival of warmer weather also presents opportunities for campus improvements that will enhance the college experience for students as well as improve the environment for faculty, staff and visitors.

For students, research shows a functional and beautiful campus can be a deciding factor in their college choice and UIS students often tell me they “fell in love” with the campus itself when they made their first visit. With a property consisting of about 750 acres and, with recent additions including the Lincoln sculpture, a Shakespeare Garden and the new Student Union, the UIS campus is, indeed, both welcoming and beautiful.

Chuck Coderko, Associate Chancellor for Facilities and Services, can attest better than anyone that Summer 2018 has been particularly busy! “The biggest transformation underway this summer,” says Chuck, “is the main floor of Brookens Library – a project that started in mid-May and will be completed in early October.”

University libraries are no longer the quiet repositories of books they were when Brookens opened its doors about 40 years ago. Library Dean Pattie Piotrowski and her team have worked closely with Facilities and Services to design a contemporary space that provides a more active “learning commons” and that fosters collaboration using both physical and digital materials.

The renovation includes a more open layout, state-of-the-art LED lighting, modern and durable flooring, mobile furniture, and collaborative spaces that encourage group interaction and active learning. The project also adds a high-tech classroom for library instruction and workshops.

“We’re especially pleased that, with the library project, we’ve been able to use locally-sourced, sustainable materials,” says Director of Construction Keith Stewart. “We’ve made a deliberate effort to work with local vendors and we expect to see great results.”

The second-oldest building on campus, the Public Affairs Center (circa 1980), has also been undergoing major improvements this summer including a new roof, completion of a stair rail safety project and various enhancements and safety improvements to Sangamon Auditorium, which launches its 2018-19 season September 16 with a performance by acclaimed comedian Jay Leno. We’re especially grateful to longtime UIS supporters Carol and Clark Esarey who provided funding for much-needed renovations of the “star” dressing rooms backstage.

When students, faculty and staff come back to campus, they’ll also see renovations to support growing academic programs in Exercise Science, Athletic Training and Nursing (offered in partnership with the UIC College of Nursing). The newly acquired UIS Field Station at Lake Springfield, formerly the FOP lake club, is also undergoing transformation. Just a short walk from campus, the facility will enable easily accessible opportunities for education, research, recreation and community outreach on and near the lake. Director of Field Stations Dr. Tom Rothfus tells me several classes are already scheduled to use the new lakeshore location this fall.

Superintendent of Grounds Brian Beckerman and his talented team spend the summer months maintaining and improving the entire landscape which includes nearly 500 tree and shrub varieties, about 375 distinct flowers and ornamental grasses, and acres of lawn and sports fields for recreation, youth sports and intercollegiate athletics.

“We’ve adopted a more sustainable philosophy in recent years,” says Brian, “using native grasses and other materials that have natural beauty and require less mowing and maintenance.

We’ve been pleased to work with the university’s new Green Fee Committee and others,” he continues, “on projects like the green roof on the Student Union (expected to achieve LEED Gold recognition later this year) and the campus community garden.”

Thanks to the leadership of Biology professor Amy McEuen and student volunteers, a butterfly garden has been created near the Cox Children’s Center. With plantings of diverse native species like cone flowers, butterfly weed, giant blue sage, coreopsis, and milk weed, the garden is attracting a multitude of bees and butterflies and has been recognized as an official Monarch Butterfly Way Station.

“Members of the Facilities and Services team have a tremendous sense of pride and ownership in their work at UIS,” says Chuck.

“If it touches the ground, its ours,” he continues, “and we want to make it better, safer and more enjoyable for students, faculty, staff and visitors.”

I hope you’ll feel welcome to come by and take a walk or a drive through the UIS campus any time – we’d love to see you!

Susan J. Koch, Chancellor of University of Illinois at Springfield

Chancellor Susan J. Koch