“Our pledge, as we are ready to break ground today in the first of four major projects that have been appropriated by the State of Illinois for UIC, is that we will continue to build on strength, we will continue to break records and attract national attention, and continue to deliver the best prepared and most diverse human infrastructure that Chicago and Illinois can imagine,” UIC Chancellor Michael Amiridis said during a ceremonial groundbreaking at the University of Illinois Chicago campus July 15.
The event celebrated the commencement of construction activities for the new $117.8 million, 135,000-square-foot Computer Design Research and Learning Center at UIC, which will be located at 900 W. Taylor St., adjacent to UIC’s Memorial Grove.
The building, which is part of the university’s campus master plan and supported by the Rebuild Illinois capital plan, will provide needed space to accommodate UIC’s rapidly increasing undergraduate enrollment in computer science with collaborative teaching and learning spaces and 16,000 square feet of classroom space. It also will provide space for UIC faculty research in computer science and engineering fields with 35 labs, including a 1,200-square-foot robotics lab.
Amiridis pointed to an anticipated 1,700 undergraduate students in computer science in the fall and the obstacle of aging infrastructure on campus.
“We reached a point where we started placing restrictions on the growth of the computer science department… simply because we did not have anywhere to put the students or the faculty,” he said.
Addressing Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker, who participated in the event, Amiridis said the university is thrilled with what the governor has done for higher education in the last two years. “It is a renaissance period for higher education in Illinois right now,” he said.
Pritzker spoke at the event.
“As Chicago’s only public research university — and one of the most diverse universities in the country — we’re making investments to further cement UIC’s place as a national leader, propelling it into the future,” Pritzker said. “Rebuild Illinois recognizes the importance of UIC as a foundation for innovation, and that same innovation is critical to our success as a state. And best of all, what’s happening with our investments at UIC is only a microcosm of what we’re doing in every corner of Illinois. We’re fixing decades-old problems, creating and supporting good jobs, invigorating the next generation, investing in our long-term economic success — and doing it together.”
Also participating in the event were Timothy Killeen, president of the University of Illinois System; Sen. Celina Villanueva, Illinois’ 11th District; Ald. Patrick Thompson, Chicago’s 50th Ward; Eileen Rhodes, chairwoman of the Illinois Capital Development Board; Peter Nelson, dean of the UIC College of Engineering; Rep. Lakesia Collins, Illinois 9th District; and UIC computer science student Zara Farin, among others.
“Where computer science is concerned, the U of I System as a whole, including UIC, has a particularly important role, a wealth of economic and technological potential for Chicago, Illinois, and the region,” Killeen said. “The computer science department here at UIC is a major driver of success. As you’ve heard, a massive enrollment increase, many underrepresented minorities will find the spark that fires their careers forward, and that’s the key reason for the construction of this fabulous new center, promising a bright future for UIC computer science and building on its rich past and present.”
The Computer Design Research and Learning Center at UIC will consolidate the currently fragmented computer science department at the College of Engineering in a new home and co-locate it with a large cluster of university classrooms.
The college serves more than 5,300 students each year. Over the last 15 years, the UIC computer science department has grown from 187 undergraduate students to more than 1,550 students, and the department has hired 20 new faculty members in the last two years. The department has approximately $50 million in active research grants and is ranked nationally in the CSRankings, among the best in the country in several areas, including web and information retrieval (8), economics and computation (14), artificial intelligence (18), logic and verification (18), natural language processing (20), and machine learning and data mining (25).
“The university, the College of Engineering, and our computer science department is in the business of changing lives, and this is why our faculty, staff, and donors have been so passionate in doing everything we can to continue growing our engineering and computer science programs and maximizing the number of students that have the opportunity to pursue computer science and engineering careers,” Nelson said. “We are all very excited and thankful to be able to push forward and expand our programs.”
Reflecting on her first days as a UIC student, Farin recalled how important it was to connect with other students and faculty, and have space for collaboration.
“This part of my journey was crucial to who I became and the collaborative environment would definitely help others who are in the same situation as I was, which is why I eagerly look forward to the completion of the Computer Design Research and Learning Center, because innovation and advancement is manifested when we come together and collaborate,” Farin said. “Thank you for giving us countless opportunities to succeed, making us love the field of computer science and helping us every step of the way.”
The building will be delivered on an accelerated schedule to meet the demands of the department, doubling its capacity. In addition to 15 classrooms, 35 labs, and collaborative teaching and learning spaces, the CDRLC will include an undergraduate learning and community center, auditorium, flexible events room, student affairs office spaces, and a five-floor day-lit atrium. It also will be the new home for UIC’s Electronic Visualization Laboratory, an internationally renowned interdisciplinary research lab. The construction project will also include a new geothermal farm beneath Memorial Grove that will assist with sustainable heating and cooling of the building, which has been designed to achieve LEED Gold certification.
The Computer Design Research and Learning Center is the third academic building to be built in recent years on the east side of UIC’s campus, which was originally designed by Walter Netsch in 1965. It follows the Engineering Innovation Building, which is home to the Chicago area’s only high-bay structural research laboratory, and the Academic and Residential Complex; both opened in July 2019.
Completion of the CDRLC is expected in summer 2023.