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Budget impasse puts NIU's Stevens Building construction on hold

The Stevens Building on the campus of Northern Illinois University sits unfinished Tuesday because of the Illinois state budget impasse.
The Stevens Building on the campus of Northern Illinois University sits unfinished Tuesday because of the Illinois state budget impasse.

DeKALB – The $27.4 million Stevens Building project has come to a grinding halt on the Northern Illinois University campus, another casualty of the state budget impasse.

Work stopped June 30. The project was first announced in 2010.

NIU spokesman Bradley Hoey said the project is fully state-funded, managed by the Capital Development Board. He said the state agency received “an edict from the governor” to halt capital projects around the state, including the one at NIU.

In July 2014, crews demolished a portion of the Stevens Building, which was first built in 1959. Two months later, the university broke ground at the site where a new structure would be built. Part of the half-century-old ‘L’-shaped building is being renovated and the portion torn down is set to have a two-story structure built in its place. The building housed the Department of Anthropology and School of Theater and Dance, which have been temporarily relocated.

Plans for the building and renovation project include putting in a new auditorium with tiered seating for up to 400. The auditorium will include state-of-the-art technology, according to information NIU provided about the project.

The original portion of the building that would be rehabbed is expected to get a new roof, upgrades to its heating, cooling and ventilation system, along with modernized plumbing and electrical systems.

Additionally, the adjacent theater would be expanded, and classrooms and laboratories in the building would get a makeover and be reconfigured.

The university had been expecting to start using the new Stevenson Building in fall 2016. Hoey said it’s not clear yet if the work stoppage now will push back that time frame.

“What we do know is that the project was on schedule prior to it being shut down at the end of (last) month,” Hoey said. “Every day that it’s delayed, that (target date) becomes in jeopardy.”

NIU President Doug Baker mentioned the Stevens Building project Tuesday at the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce’s 2015 State of City event.

“The Stevens project … was steaming ahead and nearing completion by this calendar year,” he said. “We’re hopeful that the state is going to get to a budget and we’ll restart that program and still have [the building] open for the fall of ’16.”

Gov. Bruce Rauner made service and funding cuts as of July 1, after a state budget was not put in place to fund the new fiscal year. More than $462 million in capital projects grants, overseen by the state’s Capital Development Board, were also halted.

Lawmakers passed a spending plan before the regular legislative session ended May 30. But Rauner vetoed the appropriations bill, calling the Democrats’ spending plan unbalanced with its $4 billion deficit. Senate Democrats failed last week to override the veto.

Rauner’s budget proposal, Democrats said, fell almost as short after the Illinois Supreme Court’s ruling in May that changes in 2014 to state pension plans was unconstitutional and could not be made. Rauner had depended on the savings to plug his own budget proposal and has not yet come up with an alternative.

The redo of the Stevens Building was part of a project announced in 2010 by Rauner’s predecessor, Pat Quinn. Money for the project came from 2009 capital spending appropriations.

Pallets of cinder blocks, rows of stacked pipes, and other construction materials and equipment now sit unused at the building site, locked behind a chain-link fence. A shell of the new building stands, propped up by support beams. King said it illustrates part of the “domino effect” of the logjam in Springfield.

“The longer it goes the more consequences that tend to lineup,” he said.

River City Construction is the project’s main contractor. State comptroller records indicate the East Peoria-based company was issued a $1.5 million check Monday – likely for work already done on the project. A spokesman for the company declined to comment on the Stevens Building project and deferred questions to the Capital Development Board.

Spokespersons for the CDB and governor’s office did not respond to requests for comment by press time.

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