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ISU's plans for new STEM Science Lab Building could attract federal funding

ISU Greenhouse
Emily Bollinger
The Felmley Hall of Science Annex Greenhouse is seen on the Illinois State University campus on Tuesday, June 4, 2024. ISU could get a start on funding the proposed $60 million STEM and lab building with $15 million in federal money.

A federal contribution to a new STEM/Science Lab Building at Illinois State University could come with the help of U.S. Rep. Eric Sorensen.

Sorensen has requested funding for 15 projects in his district, including $15 million for the ISU building.

“We have such a special way of life here in Central and northwestern Illinois,” said Sorensen, a Democrat who represents the 17th Congressional District. “And if we want to make our region sustainable for future generations, we need to make investments now that will support our region’s growth.”

The ISU Greenhouse is no longer used for instructional purposes, because of safety concerns.
Emily Bollinger
The ISU greenhouse is no longer used for instructional purposes, because of safety concerns.

In October, ISU identified the estimated $60 million STEM/Science Lab building as its top capital priority in seeking state appropriations, followed by a $137 million engineering building, a new $82.2 million Mennonite College of Nursing Building, and a $78.2 million replacement for Thomas Metcalf School.

It is not uncommon for projects to linger more than a decade on the list before they rise to the top, and the state funds them. This year's state budget did not include an appropriation for the science building, said an ISU spokesperson.

“Illinois State University is grateful for congressmen Sorensen’s support of the University and the STEM building project. A new STEM facility at Illinois State University will serve as a core resource for science education, which is essential for supporting enrollment geared to workforce development, including engineering, nursing, and data science,” said ISU president Aondover Tarhule.

The current Felmley Science Annex opened in 1963. University planning documents in October noted the building has been “modified numerous times during the past 60 years, however not in a planned or comprehensive manner. As a result, changing ISU pedagogical requirements, aging, failed, and obsolete infrastructure and changing codes have resulted in the building not functioning as designed or required.”

Added Tarhule: “A new facility will replace aging facilities and improve accessibility in our laboratory classrooms and teaching greenhouse. Such an investment in Illinois State University will provide essential facilities for STEM education, foster local and regional economic development, and develop well-trained students seeking a STEM-based career in the growing regional and state economy."

The university said the limits of the building have reduced teaching capacity and even determined the attached greenhouse to be an unsafe teaching environment and unsuitable working facility.

Felmley Hall greenhouse plants and cacti
Emily Bollinger
ISU officials have said a greenhouse should have instructional value and not just be a storehouse for plants.

The new building would be a four-story, 43,700-square-foot building with a greenhouse at the top. That’s a little more than half the square footage of the current facility.

“The site of the existing Greenhouse combined with the site of the abandoned facility equipment is prime ISU academic real estate in very close proximity to existing STEM labs in Felmley and the main ISU Quad, and an ideal location for a new … facility,” said planners.

The building would have up to nine STEM/science classrooms or research or teaching labs. The project would include a new south building entry and a connector to the existing annex.

Bloomington infrastructure

Sorensen also has requested $4.6 million in flood prevention funding to upgrade stormwater infrastructure. That money would let the City of Bloomington relocate existing stormwater pipes, make room for stormwater basins to collect water surges, and separate a combined sewer.

“This initiative is crucial for enhancing our infrastructure and mitigating the impact of increasingly severe weather events on our community. His support will help us protect our residents and properties from the damaging effects of flooding,” said Mayor Mboka Mwilambwe.

WGLT Senior Reporter Charlie Schlenker has spent more than three award-winning decades in radio. He lives in Normal with his family.