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UIS Will Get A New Library, Increased Funding, in Latest State Budget and Capital Plan

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UIS Chancellor Susan Koch talks a new on-campus library, and what the future holds for the university in the wake of a whirlwind session at the Illinois Capitol.

Illinois colleges and universities are set to receive more funding from the state now that lawmakers have approved a nearly $40 billion state budget. They’ll also be getting chunks of the $45 billion capital plan that will fund state construction projects over the next several years.

The University of Illinois at Springfield appears poised to benefit from both bills. Among other things, it’s expecting some $35 million dollars for a new library.

Reporter Sam Dunklau sat down with UIS Chancellor Susan Koch to talk details on the planned building, and how the University plans to move forward with more money to use.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

SD: Can you give me your assessment of how this spring legislative session went for UIS?

CK: We're really pleased with the outcome of the spring legislative session this year. It's very clear that Governor Pritzker and his team, as well as many other legislators, realize that higher education is a really important part of the future of our state. We're especially happy about the the increase in the allocation for the University of Illinois, about 4.6 percent, that's going to be a big help to the UIS campus.

There is a new capital project that will be coming to the University of Illinois Springfield, [known as] the Library and Student Success Center. It's going to enable us to have a 21st Century library for students with all the technology that involves, that's also going to include great new teaching and learning spaces that are going to really complement their strategic direction we're going with the university. We're very, very pleased about that.

In addition to that, we're so pleased to see the continuation of support for the new Discovery Partners Institute. UIS was named as the first hub of the Illinois Innovation Network last August when we acquired Innovate Springfield, so our hope is that we're going to be able to use that allocation [for the DPI] for a great capital project in the downtown area.

SD: The library, as I understand it, [will cost] $35 million. [That] will help build what exactly, in the early stages?

CK: $35 million is for a brand new building. Of course, I mean, as always, it takes a couple of million dollars or so to do the detailed planning of the building. So in a relatively short time, we will be convening all this strategic faculty and staff necessary on campus to begin discussions about exactly what will go in that building. We already have a really good idea, but we have a lot of a lot of planning to do there. So so we'll be counting on a lot of folks to be helping us with that planning...we'll go through that planning process, and once we're through the planning process, then there'll be bidding and we'll be getting the shovel in the ground on that project.

SD: I know it's very early on...but any idea in terms of timeline? When could we see this completed?

CK: Well, it's it is difficult to say. Of course, it's never as fast as we want. But it does take a number of months to do the initial planning and and there has to be a bidding process. You have to start, of course, with a selecting an architect. so it's going to take some time. If we have that building up and operating within about two and a half years, we'll be happy.

SD: What was the decision to dedicate that money for a library in particular?

CK: Well, we've known for a long time, as we have been aware of best practices across the United States, that libraries remain a critical Learning Hub for students, regardless of their major. But the challenge with libraries, of course, is that all the new technologies have really changed the way people learn. There's much more collaboration now; there's a lot less use of paper, a lot more use of technology. We're really looking forward to adopting many of those best practices, and making this a place where students are really going to want to spend time and, and collaborate and and use all kinds of technologies in their learning. It's also going to be a great advantage that the location of that building is likely to be very close to the Student Union...there's going to be some great synergy going on, as students go back and forth between those two buildings.

SD: You've mentioned that Brookens Library and Auditorium, as it's used now, will be converted into some classroom space. Any idea in terms of the classrooms that might go in there or if [there will be] any departments?

CK: Well, that's yet to be determined. There's a lot of consultation that needs to go [on] there. That is a building of really significant size, but it's also been there a very long time, and it needs a lot of renovation work. So again, that's a conversation that will be having in the coming months with lots of people that are going to have some great input to provide.

SD: In terms of the budget increase that the university [will] receive, 4.6%, can you talk about what that might help pay for?

CK: We made a commitment months ago that our number one priority for the use of that funding will be support for our faculty and staff, increases in salary, and that's going to be the primary use of those dollars. We're going to have to see, you know, where the budget stands other than that, but financial aid is always a very high priority as well. We were very pleased to see that another important legislative decision was continued support for the monetary reward program, the MAP program for our students, the new Aim High program; it's going to allow us to not only continue to have great financial aid for deserving students here, but also to increase that aid.

SD: Any updates in terms of enrollment for the next school year?

CK: Well, growth for our university...is critically important. When I talk about growth, I'm talking about growth not only in enrollment, but also growth in quality and excellence, growth in reputation. All of that is very, very important. That having been said, growth in enrollment is also a priority. That's one of the reasons that the student union was such an important project, where we're really pleased to see that many of the changes that we've made, and the work that we're doing to adopt even more best practices in recruitment, are really paying off. So I'm really excited about the numbers I'm seeing for the freshman class this fall; we're really focusing on on building that population. Things are looking very good as of today.

SD: In terms of the last four years, this [year has been] quite a turnaround, I imagine.

CK: ...We're just we're really grateful to all the investments people are making, and they're really paying off. I'm so proud and pleased to say that the University of Illinois Springfield is really coming into its own. It's a place where people want to be involved. And students are really excited to be here. And I certainly remain very excited to be here.

Sam is a Public Affairs Reporting intern for spring 2018, working out the NPR Illinois Statehouse bureau.