Timelines for Altgeld and Illini Hall Project come into focus

$192 million building and renovation project scheduled to conclude in 2026

The future of Altgeld Hall and Illini Hall is coming into focus as the University of Illinois moves forward with detailed planning for the $192 million project to modernize and grow spaces devoted to data science and other mathematical and statistical sciences.

Altgeld HallThe Board of Trustees approved schematic designs for the Altgeld and Illini Hall Project in May 2020, and planners have been creating more specific designs, plans, and schedules since then. Bidding for the demolition of Illini Hall, which will make way for a new, six-story, 140,000-square-foot building to the west of Altgeld Hall, is scheduled to open in March. Demolition is scheduled to occur from July 2021 until April 2022.

Construction of the new building will begin immediately after demolition, with completion scheduled for February 2024.

Meanwhile, bidding for the first phase of renovations to Altgeld Hall—which will include structural and access enhancements for the chimes tower—will begin in June 2021. Renovation work for the first phase is scheduled to begin in October 2021 and conclude in December 2022. Most of the building will remain open and occupied during the first phase of renovation.

Bidding for the second phase of the Altgeld renovation—the rest of the building—will begin in November 2023, with site work scheduled to begin in March 2024 and conclude in June 2026. That will mark the end of the entire two-building project.

The timeline for the project is still subject to minor changes as there are many phases of review and assessment by campus, the architecture firm, CannonDesign, and the Illinois Capital Development Board.

A conceptual rendering of the exterior of the new Illini Hall

A conceptual rendering of the exterior of the new Illini Hall, viewed from the southeast. (Image by CannonDesign.)

“We are pleased to be moving ahead with this important project,” said Derek Fultz, director of facilities for the College of LAS. “Staying on course for this project has been complicated by the fact that we’ve had to direct energy to dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, but we feel very strongly that this is important to the future of the College of LAS and the university, so we’ve worked hard to keep plans moving.”

The new building will contain activities affiliated with the Illinois Innovation Network, the C3.ai Digital Transformation Institute, and additional classroom and office space for the Departments of Mathematics and Statistics. Designs call for seven new classrooms in the new building, including a large auditorium. Designs also call for Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum certification, which is the highest ranking by the U.S. Green Building Council.

Workers will restore the historic nature of Altgeld Hall to its original vibrancy and make spaces more accessible. This includes structural repairs to the exterior—including the bell tower, which will be closed temporarily for the work—and rebuilding a glass dome over the library in the same style as the original that was taken down in 1942. A reading room with a glass wall will provide a view of the book collections, and all undergraduate advising in mathematics and statistics will be located in a new student-centered service area in Altgeld.

Dave Evensen
2020-11-10

Posted in Uncategorized

The ringing of a new era

100 years ago, music and the resilience of a dream marked the first days of the Altgeld Chimes

Former University of Illinois President Edmund James poses with the Altgeld Chimes before they were installed in 1920.

Former University of Illinois President Edmund James poses with the Altgeld Chimes before they were installed in 1920.

Perhaps it’s coincidence—and perhaps not—that two of the most symbolic moments in the history of the Altgeld Chimes have come during some of the hardest times in campus history.

Look back to early 1920. A student fundraising drive to purchase chimes for Altgeld Hall had come to a halt. What started out in 1914 as a campaign to create a class memorial for the ages had lost its energy in a devastating 1-2 punch of war and disease. Thousands of Illinois students and young alumni had gone to Europe to fight in World War I; 189 of them were killed. Then, in the closing months of the war, the 1918 influenza pandemic erupted.

Every week for months during the 1918-19 pandemic, which became known as the Spanish flu, the Daily Illini published the names of students who’d died of the virus. Emergency hospitals were set up on campus and overrun with hundreds of patients. Students stopped going to class.

“I don’t feel like the same person, and I haven’t for the last two months. I seem somebody else working in a new world and under new conditions,” wrote Dean of Men Thomas Arkle Clark on October 22, 1918, according to an article in Storied. “We have had a thousand people sick with influenza and nine deaths. There will be others I am afraid too. This is a horrible disease.”

Just a few years earlier, the mood on campus was much more upbeat. This was the golden age of class gifts, and the Senior Memorial Committee of the Class of 1914 wanted to give campus something special. The Class of 1912 had given campus the Eternal Flame; the Class of 1913 had given the Lincoln Hall Gateway.

The largest of the bells in the Altgeld Chimes is inscribed with a dedication to Edmund James.

The largest of the bells in the Altgeld Chimes is inscribed with a dedication to Edmund James.

The Class of 1914 bounced around a lot of gift ideas. According to Liam Flood (BS, ’20, chemical engineering), a former Altgeld Hall chimesplayer who is currently researching the history of the chimes, some of the ideas included a bust of Abraham Lincoln (this was several years before the one was placed in Lincoln Hall) and an electronic scoreboard for the football field. Then came word of a successful fund drive at Ohio State University to buy a chime.

The idea caught the fancy of one Illinois student, Hale Plahn “Pete” Daugherty, the so-called “Father of the Chimes,” who used his position as editor of the Daily Illini to promote the idea to the student body. It was a pricey endeavor, but in March 1914 students voted to team up with future classes to purchase chimes for Altgeld Hall (the Lincoln bust was second place).

A student-led fundraising campaign commenced. By creating a memorial fund that accumulated interest, and by setting up funding collection stations around campus—where a good amount of arm-twisting occurred—the students were gradually approaching their fundraising goal. Then, in 1917, the United States declared war on Germany, and everything changed.

Campus shifted gears for war. Buildings were converted from academic purposes to war training. Students, including members of the chimes fundraising committees, left for the front. The war ended in 1918, but on its heels came the influenza pandemic, and by 1919 fundraising for the chimes had become almost an afterthought.

Former Dean of Men Thomas Arkle Clark insisted on a configuration of bells that could play "Illinois Loyalty." He also helped find the money for it. (University of Illinois Archives.)

Former Dean of Men Thomas Arkle Clark insisted on a configuration of bells that could play “Illinois Loyalty.” He also helped find the money for it. (University of Illinois Archives.)

There was one student, however, who had not forgotten the dream for the chimes. In early 1920 Victor Cullin took over the Senior Memorial Committee and electrified efforts to raise money for the campaign. He enlisted additional help from the Class of 1921, and in April 1920 the newly formed Senior-Junior Memorial Committee organized a week-long fundraising blitz. They canvassed campus, hung a campaign poster on Altgeld Hall, and even solicited funds from students who had dropped out, Flood reported.

Within a week they raised $5,000, which was enough for not only the originally planned 11-bell chime, but one with 13 bells. A committee of students and campus officials selected Baltimore, Maryland-based McShane Bell Foundry Co. to cast the bells, and they were about to sign the contract when Dean Clark asked if the configuration of 13 could play “Illinois Loyalty.” When told they could not, he nixed the purchase, and the push for the chimes seemed to hit another rut.

Clark struck a deal with the School of Military Aeronautics, however, which had recently disbanded on campus after the conclusion of the war, to donate some money left over from a campus recreation fund. They used that money for two more bells, for a total of 15, which would allow the chimes to properly play “Illinois Loyalty.” One of the added bells included inscription commemorating the military school’s contribution. The largest bell commemorates former U of I President Edmund James.

On Oct. 30, 1920, during Homecoming celebrations, thousands of students, alumni, faculty, and local community members gathered in front of Altgeld Hall, according to Flood. After speeches, the chimes rang for the first time. McShane representative M. Harry Mettee played “Illinois,” the state song, followed by “Doxology, or Old Hundredth,” “Illinois Loyalty,” “Oskee Wow-Wow,” “Coming through the Rye,” and “America (My Country, ‘Tis of Thee).”

Dean Clark, whose role was just returning to normal, was deeply moved.

The Altgeld Chimes as they appear today.

The Altgeld Chimes as they appear today.

“It was a beautiful and inspiring experience when the bells pealed out from the old tower,” Clark later wrote, according to “An Illini Place: Building the University of Illinois Campus.” “Many a one who had listened had a mist before his eyes and felt a choking in his throat. To the young there was the vision of the future and what it holds, and to the old there was the recollection of the past and of the thousands who have gone before.”

The scene will be much different on Oct. 30, 2020, when campus celebrates the 100th anniversary of that first day the chimes played in 1920. There will be no crowd of thousands. To maintain safety during the COVID-19 pandemic, the celebration will be a virtual one—except for the chimes players and the Marching Illini, which will appear at Altgeld Hall for likely its only performance of fall 2020.

For those in 2020 who know the history of the Altgeld Chimes, however, and who know about that joyful day 100 years ago when campus emerged from a dark era with peals of music, the centennial celebration will certainly ring a bell.

The Altgeld Chimes: A timeline

1914: Students vote to raise money for chimes for a senior memorial gift.
1920: The Altgeld Chimes play for the first time on Oct. 30, 2020. John William Arnold, senior in mathematics, serves as the first chimesmaster.
1922: A pendulum clock, a gift from the Class of 1922, is added to ring out the time on the chimes.
1931–33: Alice Lauretta Madden, a graduate student, serves as the first woman chimesmaster.
1957: After several years of closure and disrepair, the Altgeld Chimes resume playing thanks to funds from the state and the University of Illinois Foundation’s Altgeld Chimes Restoration Fund.
1958–2017: Albert Emmet “Al” Marien and Sue Wood, who played under Marien, serve as chimes masters from 1958–1994 and 1994–2017 respectively.
2015: The Altgeld Ringers, a registered student organization, forms to play, promote, preserve history, and organize events in honor of the Altgeld Chimes.
2017–18: The Altgeld Chimes receive another tune-up.
Timeline information courtesy of Liam Flood and Tina Horton.

Dave Evensen
2020-10-19
Posted in Uncategorized

Altgeld Hall gift rooted in friendship

Ramona Borders (seated) and Peggy Ruff have a decades-long friendship that has inspired Borders to give to the Altgeld Hall renovation project.

Ramona Borders (seated) and Peggy Ruff have a decades-long friendship that has inspired Borders to give to the Altgeld Hall renovation project. The Decatur residents are University of Illinois alumnae.

A generation separates them.

Ramona (Russell) Pogue Borders graduated from the University of Illinois in 1948 while her dear friend Peggy (Young) Ruff earned her degree from the Department of Mathematics in 1975. However, no matter the years, the two have a loyal friendship that is based on honesty and giving – two priorities that have led Borders to make an estate gift to benefit the Altgeld Hall renovation.

The $192 million project will revitalize the iconic building that is currently home to the Department of Mathematics and replace its neighbor to the west, Illini Hall.

Borders indicated that she has always loved Altgeld Hall, but the primary reason for her interest in giving is because it’s near to Ruff’s heart.

“When you love someone, what they care about becomes what you care about,” Borders said. “We are as close as any two human beings can be. She is a dear friend.”

Borders and Ruff met nearly two decades ago when they began serving on the same church committee before Borders convinced Ruff to join her on the Millikin-Decatur Symphony Orchestra Board.

“We are extremely close,” Ruff said. “She is like a mother to me, but she has occasionally said I’m like both a daughter and a mother to her. I’m not afraid to share my opinions with her, which I think can be rare in friendships.”

During the two decades of friendship, they have talked through many of life’s details including where they donate their funds and time. Borders spent decades on campus as a student and employee, although she is a Decatur native and has focused much of her giving in the Macon County area.

Borders worked in the Bureau of Economics and Business Research as a statistician on campus. From 1952-1984, she worked as one of the first operators for ILLIAC I. She was promoted to computer supervisor, and when the Digital Computer Laboratory (DCL) opened in 1958, Borders became the administrative aide in 1968. When the Computing Services Office (CSO) formed in separation from the Department of Computer Science in 1970, she became one of the first employees of CSO. She retired from the University of Illinois in 1984.

“She really hasn’t ventured too far from local efforts in her giving; however, I spoke with her about giving to the U of I,” Ruff said. “She’s led a wonderful life and is fortunate the university provided her with a degree and an amazing career. It’s her way of giving back. I owe so much to the U of I, and I know Ramona feels the same. It taught me how to think, which is not just arriving at an answer but problem solving and working through things. (Ramona) has spent a good portion of her life on campus in one way or another.”

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Designs approved for Altgeld and Illini Hall Project

Milestone moment for $192 million construction and renovation plan

The Board of Trustees has approved schematic designs for the expansive Altgeld and Illini Hall Project, bringing closer to reality the $192 million plan to modernize and grow spaces devoted to data science and other mathematical sciences.

A conceptual rendering of the exterior of the new Illini Hall. (Image by CannonDesign.)

A conceptual rendering of the exterior of the new Illini Hall. (Image by CannonDesign.)

The project calls for the construction of a new building on the site of Illini Hall by 2023 and the renovation of Altgeld Hall by 2025. Some major project details that the board approved in its May meeting include:

  • The construction of a six-floor, 140,000-square-foot building on the site of Illini Hall. The new building will contain activities affiliated with the Illinois Innovation Network, the C3.ai Digital Transformation Institute, and additional classroom and office space for the departments of Mathematics and Statistics. Designs call for Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum certification, which is the highest ranking by the U.S. Green Building Council.
  • Restoring the historic nature of Altgeld Hall to its original vibrancy and making spaces more accessible. This includes structural repairs to the exterior—and the bell tower—and rebuilding a glass dome over the library in the same style as the original that was taken down in 1942. A new ADA-accessible entryway will be constructed on the east side of Altgeld Hall.
  • Preserving and restoring roughly two-thirds of the library stacks in Altgeld Hall and adding a reading room with a glass wall view of the book collections. Books that are displaced by the renovation will be placed in storage. Students, faculty and staff will still be able to request items.
  • The addition of seven new classrooms, including a large lecture hall in the new building. All undergraduate advising for the departments of Mathematics and Statistics will be located in a new student centered service area in Altgeld.
A conceptual rendering displays reconfigured space, restored murals, and a recreated glass dome in the Altgeld Hall library foyer. (Image by CannonDesign.)

A conceptual rendering displays reconfigured space, restored murals, and a recreated glass dome in the Altgeld Hall library foyer. (Image by CannonDesign.)

Schematic designs are, in effect, an overall visualization of the project. They are based upon conceptual designs that were created in late 2019 by the project’s architectural firms, CannonDesign and Bailey Edward. Now, with the board’s approval, architects will begin creating detailed blueprints for the project.

“It’s enormously exciting and significant that the Board of Trustees has approved schematic designs for the Altgeld and Illini Hall Project,” said Feng Sheng Hu, the Harry E. Preble Dean of the College of LAS. “The vision for the project is clear. Now it’s a matter of making it happen.”

Derek Fultz, director of facilities for the College of LAS, said that once blueprints for the project are created, the contract will be granted to a construction firm following a bidding process. Demolition of Illini Hall is scheduled to begin in 2021.

“This building is being designed to accommodate many years of continued growth for the departments,” he said.

Support for the project is coming from a mix of state funds, private and corporate donors, and campus funds. Joan Volkmann, associate dean for advancement for the College of LAS, said that naming opportunities will exist for several spaces in the new building and Altgeld Hall.

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Altgeld and Illini Hall Project enters new design phase

Altgeld Hall is slated to be renovated by 2025.

Altgeld Hall is slated to be renovated by 2025.

The University of Illinois has taken a significant step toward breaking ground on the Altgeld and Illini Hall Project, with architects recently submitting conceptual designs for the plan to modernize and expand spaces devoted to data science and other mathematical sciences.

Campus officials are now creating schematic designs for the infrastructure project, which includes renovating Altgeld Hall and constructing a new building on the site of Illini Hall. Campus plans to bring the proposed schematic design—an overall visualization of the project—before the Board of Trustees in March for approval, said Derek Fultz, director of facilities for the College of LAS.

Once the design is approved by the Board of Trustees, architects will begin creating more detailed construction blueprints for the project. Campus officials expect the new building to be complete by 2023, and for Altgeld Hall to be renovated by 2025.

“Schematic design began last week,” said Sheldon Katz, professor of mathematics, who is also serving as a coordinator and special advisor on the project. “This is an exciting new phase of our process, in which we are refining our vision for student, faculty, and classroom spaces, along with other floor plans.”

The new building will be an advanced classroom and research facility focused on creating knowledge through mathematics, statistics, data science, and machine learning. The departments of Mathematics and Statistics will use space in the new building. The Altgeld Hall renovation will preserve historic features while increasing energy efficiency, improving accessibility, and creating state-of-the-art classroom space for the thousands of students who take classes there each semester.

The estimated cost of the project has grown to $188 million, with the dollars to come from a mix of state funds, private and corporate donors, and campus funds.

Fultz said that the growing scope of the project is being driven by a couple of factors. The architectural firms, CannonDesign and Baily Edward, have completed extensive analysis of Altgeld Hall during the past few months, and they have a more clear idea of the work that will be required for the renovation.

Also, to accommodate plans for the new data science center and the growing needs of the departments of Mathematics and Statistics, planners are proposing that the size of the new building should be increased from four floors to six floors.

Feng Sheng Hu, the Harry E. Preble Dean of the College of LAS, said that the renovated Altgeld Hall and the new data science building will enhance learning and research for years to come.

“The Altgeld and Illini Hall project is one of the most significant infrastructure projects ever undertaken on campus,” Hu said. “We are being extremely careful, thoughtful, and prudent as we move forward. It is critical to the future of Illinois to be a leader in these fields.”

 

Dave Evensen
Posted in News

Recreating a masterpiece: Jane Bergman creates rendition of Altgeld glass dome

Jane Bergman has always held a special spot in her heart for the brilliance of stained glass.

“My very first memory is being held by my mother (in St. Patrick’s Church in Urbana) while people were singing,” Bergman said. “I was gazing at the enchanting brilliance of the sunlight streaming through the beautiful stained glass windows of the church. That memory still warms my soul.”

Jane Bergman displays her replica of the glass dome that once overlooked the library in Altgeld Hall.

Jane Bergman displays her replica of the glass dome that once overlooked the library in Altgeld Hall. (Photo courtesy of Jane Bergman.)

That’s why Bergman’s discovery in 2008 that there was once a large, stained glass dome over the library in Altgeld Hall, her very place of work, made such an impact on the university employee.

More than a decade of work later, through countless hours of painstaking research and artistry, Bergman has created a replica of the old dome some 77 years after it was taken down and plastered over.

Altgeld Hall last underwent major renovations in 1956, when the School of Law left and the Department of Mathematics moved in. The dome had been taken down over a decade prior, in 1942.

Bergman, an office manager for the Department of Mathematics, knew that Altgeld Hall was in need of renovation, but a renovation seemed to be a remote possibility in 2008 when she discovered that the dome had once existed. Still, she began work on a replica in hopes that Altgeld Hall would someday be renovated—and that a stained glass dome would be part of it.

Now, with the design firms of CannonDesign and Bailey Edward in the process of planning the renovation, with completion for Altgeld Hall set for 2024, the possibility of restoring or recreating the stained glass dome is, in fact, being investigated, according to building officials.

Long before she was aware of the current renovation plans, however, Bergman wanted to remind people of the beauty of the original work. And so, she set off on her mission to make her own rendition.

Bergman is artsy — she decorated her wedding dress with light blue Swarovski beads, for example, to match her husband’s eyes — and figured that she could learn the skills needed to create something that would allow others to see the beauty that the dome once possessed.

A historical image of the glass dome

This is the only historical image of the glass dome over the library in Altgeld Hall that Jane Bergman could find. It was taken down in 1942. (Image courtesy of the University of Illinois Archives.)

“I’ve always had a huge love for stained glass,” Bergman said. “I started working on this and then I realized, ‘You know, if I really love stained glass so much, why don’t I do it?’”

While researching what the old dome looked like, Bergman began taking stained glass courses at Cracked Glass, a stained glass company in Urbana. She quickly worked her way through nearly every class offered.

Creating the rendition proved to be a taller task than Bergman could have foreseen, however. From roughly 2009 to 2011, she spent her lunch hours and much of her free time looking for colored photos of the dome or the original design. It took years of research and work before the two-dimensional, 50-inch by 33.5-inch foil rendition was even imaginable.

“It took me two years to figure out that there wouldn’t be a colored picture, so I stopped looking for that,” Bergman said. “I even met with the people over in (the University of Illinois) Archives and looked at old architectural drawings and stuff, hoping that we could find the design.”

She also scoured the Daily Illini and (Champaign-Urbana) News-Gazette archives, to no avail, and couldn’t find an image or sketch of the dome at any local libraries or historical archives. She even examined the university’s Board of Trustee minutes from 1880 to 1900 to find the company that did the design, but found nothing.

Eventually, she found a black and white photo in the University of Illinois Archives that showed about one-quarter of the dome’s design. While excited to have a reference point, Bergman knew it would take extreme attention to detail and some intuitive conclusions to get the design right.

Bergman blew up the photo and traced the lines of the design onto 60-inch by 40-inch poster paper, flipping the copy around in order to fill out the design’s oval shape and adjusting each aspect of the design to mirror the differing panels.

She also examined other stained glass designs in-depth, and, eventually, using skills gained in the courses she was taking, came up with a high-quality drawing. Confident that she had the design as accurate as possible, Bergman scanned it onto a disk and then began working on it in Photoshop.

What she thought would be a straightforward process turned out to be anything but. The scan of the design was too detailed and full of imperfections, and the pixels were off-color. So Bergman began to redefine the image, pixel-by-pixel, making thousands of corrections—and restarting after multiple computer crashes—until the image was to her liking.

A high-resolution image of Jane Bergman's stained glass dome replica

The Beckman Institute created a high-resolution image of Jane Bergman’s stained glass dome replica. (Image courtesy of the Beckman Institute.)

Once she completed the entire design, she obtained approval to have it printed on foam board and a transparency sheet. Then she began using the foiling skills she had learned, finally beginning to weave the final image of a nearly forgotten masterpiece.

Demonstrating the foiling technique, Bergman said: “I copy the design onto cardstock and onto transparent film. After covering the cardstock with a sheet of double-sided adhesive tape, I cut around each section with an Exacto knife to remove the plastic. Laying the colored foil on the exposed adhesive transfers the foil to the design. Once the foiling is complete, I align the film, with the same design on it, and lay it directly on top. The design on the transparency delineates between the sections, so you can really see the stained glass effect.”

The final product was capped off with the addition of a frame, and it’s now on display in the Mathematics Library in Altgeld Hall in hopes that it inspires support and becomes a precursor for the dome’s return. During all the years she spent on the artwork, Bergman knew that for someone to support a dome, they’d first need to see the full potential of this “beautiful adornment that once graced Altgeld Hall.”

“I knew nobody else was going to do this, because people who would be this interested wouldn’t have the skills to create this,” Bergman said. “I already knew how to do the foiling. I just had to make the design.”

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Architecture firm hired for Altgeld Hall and Illini Hall project

The University of Illinois has hired a Chicago design firm to begin planning the Altgeld Hall and Illini Hall project to modernize learning spaces and increase capacity in data science and other mathematical sciences.

During their March meeting, the Board of Trustees approved CannonDesign to conceptualize and create schematic designs for the project, which will include the construction of a new building on the site of Illini Hall, and the renovation of Altgeld Hall. Campus officials expect the new building to be constructed by 2022, and for the renovation of Altgeld to be complete by 2024.

Altgeld Hall

A Chicago design firm will prepare architectural plans for the renovation of Altgeld Hall and the construction of a new building on the site of Illini Hall.

Once the schematic designs are complete—which will provide basically an overall visualization of the project—they will be brought back to the Board of Trustees for review. If the board approves, CannonDesign will proceed with planning the details of the project. The total design contract amount is estimated to be $4.4 million.

CannonDesign is the same firm that designed the renovation of Lincoln Hall, which was completed in 2012. It has also designed projects at several other universities, including the student union at the University of Florida, a residence hall at Boston University, the law school library tower at the University of Chicago, a chemistry laboratory renovation at Yale University, and many more.

“We are very pleased that the trustees approved CannonDesign for the Altgeld Hall and Illini Hall project,” said Derek Fultz, director of facilities for the College of LAS who also served on the selection committee that recommended the firm. “We fully expect the buildings to display the same, high levels of creativity and practicality that CannonDesign has provided in the past.”

Campus is still raising money for the Altgeld Hall and Illini Hall project. The new building will be constructed on the site of Illini Hall, which is scheduled to be razed at the corner of South Wright and East John streets beginning in fall 2020. It will be replaced with a larger, world-class facility for learning and discovery, including a data science center that does not currently exist on campus.

The new building will be an advanced classroom and research facility focused on creating knowledge through mathematics, statistics, data science, and machine learning. The departments of Mathematics and Statistics will continue to use space in the new building.

The new building will be funded in part with a portion of the $500 million in state capital funding that was approved last spring to launch the Illinois Innovation Network and Discovery Partners Institute. The university will also contribute to the new building.

The Altgeld Hall renovation will receive funding from campus in addition to funding from donations and other sources, some of which has already been secured. The building’s inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places means that certain historic features will be restored, while new features will be added to increase energy efficiency and accessibility.  State-of-the-art classroom space will be created to improve the learning environment for the thousands of students who take classes in Altgeld Hall each semester.

The renovation of Altgeld Hall will begin when construction of the new building is complete. Built in 1897, Altgeld Hall is the second oldest building on campus. It was named for former Illinois Governor John Altgeld and formerly served as the original university library and law school before becoming home to the Department of Mathematics. It was last renovated in 1956.

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Erasing a chalky dilemma—Altgeld worker solves a tough math problem: dust

What do you get when you add mathematics and chalkboards? Grant Cole, a building service worker from Facilities & Services who worked in Altgeld Hall, can answer that question: Dust, and lots of it.

As a cleaner in one of the busiest buildings on campus—a mathematics building to boot—Cole knew how the learning process could be accompanied by clouds of dust as dense as the morning fog. The question was, what to do about it? Anybody who knows math professors knows how they love their chalkboards. But nobody seemed to have a good solution for the gritty side effects.

The chalk vacuum created by Grant Cole and Ralph Keil

A chalk vacuum created by building service workers in Altgeld Hall has helped clear up a chalk problem. (Photo by Samantha Jones Toal.)

“Some of the staff and faculty were beating their chalk erasers against the wall,” Cole said. “They were beating them on the radiators on each side of the chalkboard, and even on the wall going to the elevator. And then I observed another professor, walking across in front of the stage, and he was holding two of the longer erasers together, rubbing them and beating them to get the chalk dust out.”

Toshua York, director of budget and resource planning in the Department of Mathematics, said the problem seemed hopeless.

“Some of the faculty were getting chalk dust everywhere,” York said. “It was creating a huge mess, but they would say, ‘We don’t know how else to clean them!’”

Cole did his best to combat the problem. At the request of faculty, he switched out erasers in the middle of the day and washed chalkboards between classes. But Cole was resourceful, and he brainstormed an easier solution.

“I thought about finding grating wire or chicken wire to hang on a cable so they could beat it on that, into a trash can,” Cole said, “but as I was looking around, I came across an old backpack vacuum that was collecting dust in one of the rooms of Altgeld and had a new idea.”

Grant Cole

Grant Cole, pictured here, and his friend Ralph Keil got creative to solve a chalk dust issue. (Photo courtesy of Grant Cole.)

With some scrap metal, wood, and the help of his friend, Ralph Keil, Cole created a chalk vacuum at zero cost. It was a hit. A year later, Cole’s popular chalk vacuum sits in Altgeld Hall, where students and professors alike slide the erasers over the device and condemn all those dust particles to a proper holding place.

“A few professors told me that they think it’s wonderful, that they come and see it, and they think it’s pretty cool,” Cole said. “Altgeld is a math building, and math professors, they don’t do anything without a piece of chalk in their hand.”

Rinat Kedem, professor of mathematics, would agree. Kedem actually has her very own chalk vacuum in her office. It was a gift from colleagues from Osaka, Japan, where she lived and taught for years. That’s where she developed a respect for chalkboards and chalk; every classroom in Japan has a chalk vacuum, she said.

“They have the studies where if you take notes, it makes a difference because it allows you time to reflect on what you just wrote. Writing changes the way you think, and the writing medium changes the way you think. It’s very important for me,” Kedem said. “Mathematicians all over the world prefer blackboards.”

Kedem is enthusiastic about Cole’s solution to Altgeld’s dust problem.

“Every classroom with a blackboard should have a chalk vacuum,” Kedem said. “Chalk dust is a major irritant for mathematics professors in general and me in particular, and this little machine makes a big difference in my office.”

Cole’s supervisor, James Matthews, assistant superintendent of building services at Facilities & Services, is pleased with Cole’s initiative.

“Grant coming up with this idea shows how much he cares about what he does here at the university,” Matthews said. “We truly appreciate that quality in people.”

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Former chair contributes to the Altgeld Hall renovation

Philippe Tondeur, professor emeritus of mathematics, has worked and studied at universities around the world, but the University of Illinois holds a special place in his heart and mind.

Tondeur has donated in support of the Campaign for Altgeld and Illini Halls, which includes a plan to renovate Altgeld Hall. The building—which serves as home to the Department of Mathematics where Tondeur once served as chair—was last significantly renovated in 1956. The university has announced that a major renovation of Altgeld is targeted for completion in 2024.

Tondeur said he is proud to contribute to the project.

A desire to improve the educational experience for students led Philippe Tondeur, professor emeritus of mathematics and former chair of the Department of Mathematics, to support the renovation of Altgeld Hall. (Photo courtesy of Philippe Tondeur.)

“State of the art facilities will greatly enhance the student learning experiences,” he said.

Tondeur attended college at the University of Zurich, where he earned a PhD in mathematics. He went on to serve as a research fellow and lecturer at the University of Paris, Harvard University, and the University of California at Berkeley before taking on the role of associate professor at Wesleyan University.

In 1968, Tondeur came to the University of Illinois and became a full professor in 1970. After serving as department chair, Tondeur served as the director for the Division of Mathematical Sciences at the National Science Foundation.

Tondeur has given over 200 lectures at institutions all over the globe. He has also served as a visiting professor at about a dozen universities including the University of Buenos Aires, the University of Rome and Keio University in Tokyo.

Even after spending so much time at other universities, however, Tondeur feels a strong bond with the University of Illinois. He noted that the “fantastic Department of Mathematics” is what originally drew him to working full-time at Illinois.

“The attraction of the university was a position in a world-class institution, with a faculty wholeheartedly devoted to mathematics research and teaching,” he said.

The renovation of both Altgeld and Illini Halls is projected to cost about $100 million, which will be funded by the state, campus and generous donations, including one from Tondeur.

The renovation is coming at an important time. In the past 10 years, enrollment in the mathematics department has increased about 40 percent, which means updates to the facilities are needed to help accommodate a larger influx of students. Tondeur said he’s thrilled to be a part of much-needed renovations that will convert the building into a modern and enduring learning environment.

Tondeur said he loved teaching at the University of Illinois and wants to ensure that students here receive the best possible education for years to come.

“Being part of a faculty entirely devoted to research and teaching has been a life-enhancing experience and the contact with students has been an integral part of it,” Tondeur said. “The assimilation and admiration of the achievements of my colleagues over time at Illinois and elsewhere has been an exciting part of it. These activities have been the substance of my wonderful professional life.”

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The art of playing Altgeld Hall

The clock struck 12:50 p.m. and the Quad teemed with students during passing period. High above them, in Altgeld Hall, Jonathon Smith moved quickly, organizing his sheet music. He knew what many of them would think—that a machine was playing the chimes in the tower. They couldn’t be more wrong.

Purposefully, with passion, Smith began to “play the tower,” so to speak. Playing the chimes is different than virtually any other instrument. It requires footwork. Smith glided from one end of the bell levers to the other, pressing them downward to adjust tension on the long lines that activated the clappers—metal balls within the bells. As the clappers swung and struck the chimes, the notes of “Hail to the Orange” pealed across campus.

This isn’t the first time the Altgeld chimes have been played, not even close. They’re almost 100 years old. But after a recent renovation took them offline, their comeback has been relatively quiet compared to the rather downbeat publicity that occurred when they went silent. Now, the future of the Altgeld chimes appears stronger than ever.

Smith is the first of a new lineage of chimes players. The lead player is now a position for graduate students in the

Jonathon Smith plays the chimes in Altgeld Hall.

Jonathon Smith plays the chimes in Altgeld Hall. A recent renovation has made the future of the chimes stronger than ever. (Photo by Jesse Wallace.)

School of Music who have been actively playing the bells. Smith oversees a registered student organization, Altgeld Ringers, which is dedicated to making the playing more organized.

Meanwhile, the renovation that silenced the chimes in the first place has improved the environment greatly. It was the first renovation in 60 years and the chimes needed it badly.

The room housing the instrument has new walls and has been repainted. New emergency and safety systems have been installed, new flooring has been put in place to make the floor level, railings were installed and gates put in place along the steep sets of staircases. The Department of Mathematics also supplied the room with new furniture, a computer, printer and a scanner for music arrangements and other administrative needs.

The chimes instrument, as well as the practice playing console, were completely refurbished.

“It used to wobble, but it doesn’t anymore,” Smith said, of the chimes console. He’s been playing the chimes since 2011.

A new automatic system was also installed to keep the time, and changes were made to the chimes to ensure easier playing.

“(Playing the chimes) used to seem a lot more athletic than it does now. They actually did some work to make the playing less tiresome and smoother,” Smith said. “We’re really happy to be back to playing, happy to be back to playing renovated instruments, especially the practice console. This is a night and day difference, we practice everything here before we play it.”

While Smith and the rest of the chimes players have been grateful for the updates, Smith is committed to letting the history of the iconic place echo, too. Reminders of Sue Wood, who started playing the chimes in 1971 and served as chimesmaster from 1995 until the recent renovation, are all around.

“We have a ton of Sue’s music, like Hedwig’s Theme from Harry Potter. She never put her initials on it, but she wrote very tiny so you can tell it’s hers,” Smith said. “It’s a really neat thing to have this instrument up here, but (it’s also historical) and really unique to this school and our program here.”

“Every person that plays up here has probably left some remnants of their time here,” Smith added. “When I’m done here, my music will still be here.”

Illinois is one of the last schools to continue their chimes program, according to Smith. Many universities have implemented automatic systems or have failed to maintain their bells due to finances. But the chimes in Altgeld Hall have remained a unique fixture at Illinois. Players teach each other how to play the instrument.

“I learned how to play the chimes from Sue (Wood),” Smith said. “It’s not really a standardized instrument. There are only 15 bells, and all of the music we have we arrange ourselves. Most of our music, going back to 1920, has all been arranged by somebody here.”

The chimes themselves were created with the specific intent of playing Illinois Loyalty. But today, students can hear everything from the theme song of popular cartoon Futurama to classical harp tunes from the 1600s, a testament to how the chimes continue to adapt to modern times.

“So many students use Reddit and we hear a lot of complimentary things, we get song requests on our Facebook page, there’s a little more interaction with the digital media,” Smith said, adding that he is currently in the process of digitizing song arrangements. “The players all want to hold onto the integrity of what (Sue Wood) started.”

Since the initial renovations, public tours are no longer available. However, Smith is determined to share the charm of the chimes with the community and students, many of whom, like he himself once mistakenly believed, think the chimes are just some pre-recorded speaker. In fact, playing the chimes is a one-of-a-kind musical feat.

“Playing the chimes is much different than sitting down at another instrument because you have to move so much — you move your entire body,” Smith said. “It’s the action of moving and putting your body and weight into the instrument to play the notes. The building has to do with the acoustics. You’re playing the building.”

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