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The "Crisis of Confidence" series is a multi-year effort by the Tri States Public Radio to document the impact the two-year state budget impasse had on Western Illinois University and the ongoing recovery efforts at WIU. State support for public higher education institutions has been steadily declining in Illinois for more than a decade. But the issue was compounded, during the state's historic two-year budget impasse during Fiscal Years '16 and '17 which left public colleges and universities with little state financial support. At Western Illinois University, that drastic cut in state appropriations resulted in significant budget cuts, employee furloughs, and layoffs.

WIU Scaling Back Center for Performing Arts

Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects

Western Illinois University's Center for Performing Arts might have to do without some amenities as the school aims to reduce the cost of the project.  The single construction bid that came in this spring was over budget. So the state ordered Western to scale back the building plans by about $6 million, which is about 10% of the total cost.  

Scott Coker, Director of Facilities Management, said the process is called “value engineering” and it’s frequently required when dealing with the Illinois Capital Development Board.

“We want the building even if we have to reduce the look of it a little bit,” Coker said.

So far, there’s a list of about 50 items being considered for elimination. Those could include removing the classrooms and dean’s offices from the building as well as losing a balcony and reducing the number seats in the Proscenium Theater.  

“We understand that it’s going to reduce the look of it a little bit. But not enough -- if no one knew that we had this problem and they come in five years from now, you wouldn’t say okay it looks like a cheap building, not at all," said Coker.

He said the school and the design firm have to sign off on the changes. Coker said it’s a matter of figuring out what’s really needed in the building. For example, two pumps for chilled water were proposed for the mechanical room. But Coker said most buildings at Western only have one and can manage to get by if it goes down for a few days. 

“On the heating side, they do have a primary pump and secondary pump in the same manner, but we said no we can’t cut that because if the heating pump goes down and the building is without heat for a few days we are going to damage fixtures and freeze pipes, so we have some that we are saying no to,” Coker said.

Western plans to cut more than absolutely necessary to ensure the Center for Performing Arts comes in under budget next time around.

“If we come to the next bid and it’s still over then we’ve got major problems,” Coker said. “We feel with the way the financial situation is in the state that if we get to a second bid date and we don’t have enough money that the project could be cut at the state level.”

He hopes to have the project back out to bid this fall. He said that would allow some construction work to begin this winter.

“It’s a bad thing that we are having to delay it. But we are so gung ho about getting the building that it’s something we will put up with,” Coker said.

Emily Boyer is a former reporter at Tri States Public Radio.