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Construction around campus: What’s changed?

Watterson Towers lobby

The new and improved Watterson Towers lobby.

Above, the new and improved Watterson Towers lobby.

And we’re back!

The Illinois State campus is alive again for the first day of classes. The start of the 2012-13 school year marks the end of construction for several big projects around Illinois State, and the start of a few others.

Whether you’re an alum who may be coming back for a visit this fall, or a returning student wondering what’s changed, here’s the Big 5, courtesy of Illinois State’s Facilities Planning and Construction team and others.

Watterson Towers

Started in spring 2010, completed this month

This $28.4 million, multiyear project meant some big improvements for student rooms, including new furniture (two-sided mattresses, firm or plush), overhead lighting and fire alarms. Restrooms also got a makeover, with new wall tiles, floors, showers and sinks. The Watterson exterior saw some concrete repairs, new sealant and paint and replaced windows. Crews also added wireless capability throughout the residence hall. The overall project addressed deficiencies in the buildings’ mechanical systems, and a new sprinkler system and upgrades to the current fire detection and alarm systems were also part of the project. The project improved the buildings’ accessibility as it relates to ADA requirements and upgraded the existing elevators.

Cardinal Court

The new University apartment-style housing complex, Cardinal Court, opened this month.

Cardinal Court

Groundbreaking in May 2011, opened this month

The $44.7 million project on Gregory Street, where the previous Cardinal Court stood from 1957 to 2010, welcomes its first residents for the 2012-13 school year. Illinois State President Al Bowman and the Board of Trustees were on hand for a dedication ceremony August 9 at Cardinal Court 2.0, which houses 894 students, primarily sophomores, in apartment-style living. New residents will find fully furnished apartments and Cardinal Court’s center, which contains a multipurpose room, a workout area, a quiet area with couches, game tables and a small theater with four levels of seating. An outside seating area faces a courtyard in the middle of the buildings. There is also an outside volleyball court and basketball court as well as a grassy area.

South Campus residence halls

The decommissioned South Campus residence halls.

South Campus

Buildings dated back to 1960s, decommissioned this month

After more than 50 years as a home to thousands of students, the four residence halls and dining center in South Campus were decommissioned. Changes in Illinois fire codes mandated substantial investments be made to bring Atkin-Colby and Hamilton-Whitten up to standards by 2013. The University’s administrators opted to invest in the new complex at Cardinal Court instead to better meet the needs of students, resulting in the closure of the four residence halls. STATEside put together a roundup of alumni memories last week, and former residents said goodbye at an open house in July. At this time, there is no scheduled date for razing the buildings, and it’s still being determined how they might be used in the short-term, potentially for office or storage space.

Uptown Station

Groundbreaking in summer 2010, opened in July

When students left campus in May, the $45.9 million Uptown Station just off the Uptown Circle wasn’t quite done. It’s now open and operational, and that means some changes for students and families who rely on Amtrak or buses to get to, from and around Bloomington-Normal. Amtrak riders, obviously, will now depart from Uptown Station, rather than the former smaller facility across the tracks. (Keep in mind that crews are still doing high-speed rail work on the tracks between Chicago and St. Louis, so check your booking information closely to see if you’ll be riding a bus for a portion of your trip between Normal and Chicago.) Peoria Charter Coach buses to Chicago also will take off from Uptown Station. And the Bloomington-Normal Public Transit System (now rebranded as Connect Transit) buses will now use Uptown Station as the Uptown transfer center, instead of North Street.

Hancock Stadium

The new Hancock Stadium design.

Hancock Stadium

Construction to begin this semester, ready for 2013 football season

The first signs of the $25 million major renovation of Hancock Stadium are now visible, as crews have installed a construction fence and trailer and closed off the parking lot on Hancock’s east side. The existing east-side bleacher seating will be demolished, making way for a new east-side grandstand with brick columns and glass walls to provide a more attractive and inviting presence on Main Street. The project also provides outdoor terrace spaces, suite and club seating and improved concession areas and restrooms. All construction is scheduled to be completed before the 2013 football season. Hancock Stadium’s capacity for the 2012 season will be about 7,000, due to the removal of those east-side bleachers. But here’s the good news: The new Hancock’s capacity will be approximately 15,000.

Ryan Denham can be reached at