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Illinois Plans $72.5 Million Supercomputer Home, but Promised State Help Uncertain


University of Illinois trustees voted Wednesday to spend $72.5 million for a building to house a new supercomputer, but most of the money is tied up in a state capital-spending plan stalled in Springfield.

The building on the Champaign-Urbana campus will house the computer known as Blue Waters, which will be the fastest computer in the world when it is finished in 2011. The university, which says it doesn’t have the existing space to house the new computer, plans to fund the construction in part with a $208 million National Science Foundation grant.

The university’s bid to build the computer came with a pledge from Gov. Rod Blagojevich that the state would kick in $60 million.

That money which would make up all but $12.5 million of what the university plans to spend on the building is part of a $13 billion capital plan that has passed in the Senate but is stuck in the House after House Speaker Michael Madigan raised concerns about the major gambling expansion that would pay for the capital program.

University trustees meeting in Springfield approved the measure to build the supercomputer building without comment, spokesman Tom Hardy said Wednesday.

“The hoped-for scenario is that the state, which has committed the $60 million, will go through with that,” he said. “We’re hoping to have state commitment by next spring.”

Without it, the university can fall back on some of its own funding to at least keep the project moving forward, he said.

Blagojevich spokeswoman Abby Ottenhoff said the governor and legislative leaders, including Madigan, are meeting this week to try to move the capital funding forward. But she was unsure whether any progress was being made.

Madigan’s office did not immediately return telephone messages from The Associated Press Wednesday.

The National Science Foundation has said the decision to build the computer at Illinois was not based on the state’s willingness to provide money.

But Karl Hess, a professor emeritus at the university and a member of the board that gave the National Science Foundation the OK to spend the money to build Blue Waters, has said that such funds are often critical factors in deciding where NSF money will be spent.

“State matching funds are looked at and in many cases as preconditions,” Hess said in September. He didn’t vote on the Blue Waters funding because of his tie to Illinois.

The computer, to be built by the university’s National Center for Supercomputing Applications and IBM, would be capable of performing a thousand trillion mathematical operations a second. That standard for computational speed is known as a petaflop, a hurdle computer scientists have long sought to clear.

IBM’s Blue Gene/L in California is currently the world’s fastest supercomputer, but it has only about a third of Blue Waters’ expected capability. The Supercomputing Centers’ fastest existing supercomputer, Abe, has less than a tenth of Blue Waters’ processing power.

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