Budget brings facilities upgrades

CHARLESTON, Ill. (WCIA) -- For most people, the passing of a state budget means funding for social services, ongoing construction projects,  and lottery tickets. But for some students and faculty members at Eastern Illinois University, it means air conditioning.

A line item in the spending plan will provide some much needed facilities upgrades, but the politics behind getting that done were complicated.

In Coleman Hall, staff can only do so much to help students beat the heat.

"The AC system in Coleman hall is not ideal," says English Professor Angela Vietto.

A University facilities report says the HVAC system is the original, installed when the hall was built back in the '60s.

Vietto will tell you it has a mind of its own.

"There are the days during the summer when I'm teaching, and it's extremely hot because the heat is on," she says. "I think, if we're quiet, we can hear the pipes knocking. In my office, they knock so loudly that when I meeting with students, sometimes the students can't concentrate."

Even though students will soon be able to keep their cool, State Senator Dale Righter has been taking a lot of heat for it.

"Eastern is the second lowest per-pupil funded four year university in the state," he says.

He broke ranks with his fellow Republicans to vote in favor of the spending plan.

"My district, the people who I represent in this district, were out of time on that," says Righter.

EIU is in that district. The budget deal includes $5 million the University can use to update or replace some of their HVAC systems. For Righter, that came at the cost of a controversial vote. But he says it was the right thing to do.

"I had a meeting with the lead Democrat House of Representatives negotiator, and talked to him a little bit about those needs, and they were able to accommodate them."

Out of all the things lawmakers don't agree on, at least Eastern's facilities needs were a bipartisan effort.

Although, Vietto wonders what else that could have accomplished.

"I have mixed feelings about it," she says. "Given what has happened to us for the last couple of years, that $5 million might be needed somewhere else on campus."

Righter says EIU is slated to get 10 percent less than what was appropriated in the fiscal year 2015 budget. That was the last full-year budget the state had.

 

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