Southern Illinois University School of Medicine’s year-old SimmonsCooper Cancer Institute building will remain vacant indefinitely — a victim of the state’s ongoing fiscal crisis, SIU officials say. 

Southern Illinois University School of Medicine’s year-old SimmonsCooper Cancer Institute building will remain vacant indefinitely — a victim of the state’s ongoing fiscal crisis, SIU officials say.


“We continue to be hopeful” about the possibility of a $1 million appropriation needed to heat, cool, light and maintain the fully functioning building for a year, said Phillip Davis, SIU associate provost for external affairs.


But when the Illinois General Assembly and Gov. Pat Quinn completed the latest action on the state’s fiscal 2010 budget this summer, “We didn’t get an appropriation to do that,” Davis said.


Fall veto funds?


Davis said he hopes the legislature can come up with the money during the fall veto session. Once funds are secured, the $21.5 million building could open within three or four months, Davis said.


The cancer institute began as a proposal in 2000 and received the biggest chunk of its construction dollars through state funds allocated when Republican George Ryan was governor. Construction culminated in September 2008 amid expectations that the building’s opening would provide a vibrant symbol of progress for Springfield’s Mid-Illinois Medical District.


SIU learned in April that it received $250,000 from the state that medical school officials hoped would help them open building during the summer. But no more money followed in the state budget for the new fiscal year, Davis said.


SIU has spent the $250,000 to prevent the building from falling into disrepair, Davis said. The annual cost of even the vacant structure is about $290,000, he said.


“We’d like very much to get in the building,” Davis said. “We have people spread all around the campus now.”


The state’s budget crunch hasn’t affected the $2.5 million annual appropriation that SIU receives to help pay the salaries of doctors and researchers affiliated with the cancer institute, who now work out of a variety of offices in Springfield.


55 physicians


The new building is designed to be headquarters for about 55 SIU doctors and related support staff. SIU officials have said the layout would allow doctors to collaborate on strategies for treating a variety of cancers.


The institute building is to include a chemotherapy infusion area with 20 stations, 23 exam rooms and four minor-procedure rooms. There also will be an on-site laboratory, a conference room, a family and patient learning resource center and a small café.


The still unfinished third floor eventually is intended to provide space for research laboratories.


About $6 million of the building’s total cost was borrowed by SIU. That money will be repaid will donations and with revenue generated by doctors who are part of the medical school’s group practice.


Maintenance, security and housekeeping workers check the building daily, and the building is monitored remotely to make sure the temperature remains between 55 and 80 degrees, said John Runge, an SIU construction project manager.


Groundskeepers spend about one day a week mowing grass, pulling weeds and performing other outdoor work at the site, he said.


“We think it’s a great facility, and it’s really going to be a boost for the medical district when it’s open,” Runge said. “We want to make sure that what we do have doesn’t deteriorate.”


Dean Olsen can be reached at (217) 788-1543 or dean.olsen@sj-r.com.


SimmonsCooper Institute timetable


2000: The Illinois Board of Higher Education approves a proposal to create a cancer institute at Springfield’s Southern Illinois University School of Medicine.


2001: Then-Gov. George Ryan sets aside $14.5 million in the state budget to build a headquarters for the institute.


2005: Construction begins on a three-story building designed by Hanson Professional Services of Springfield with consultation by BSA Life Structures of Chicago. Because of increasing construction costs, the $21.5 million available for the building — almost all from the state — wasn’t enough to finish the interior of the third floor; Efforts continue to raise $2.5 million for that purpose.


Late 2005: The East Alton-based SimmonsCooper law firm, which made a fortune suing U.S. companies for asbestos exposure, pledges $10.2 million in donations toward the cancer institute. The institute is the nation’s only major medical center to bear the name of a law firm.


July 2008: A ribbon-cutting ceremony is held at the facility, but the recession-related budget crunch prevents the building from being occupied.


April 2009: A supplemental appropriation signed by Gov. Pat Quinn provides $250,000 in operations and maintenance money for the last portion of the fiscal year, raising hopes that the building can finally open.


August 2009: SIU officials announce that the building will remain vacant indefinitely after $1 million needed for operations and maintenance annual fails to make it into the state’s fiscal 2010 budget.