INA – State politicians, coal officials and civic leaders joined Rend Lake College Board members, administrators, staff and faculty Thursday morning to break ground for the campus’ newest edition, the RLC Coal Mining Training Center.
The groundbreaking ceremony featured guest speakers Warren Ribley, Director of Operations for the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity; State Rep. Kurt Granberg (D-107); State Sen. Gary Forby (D-59); State Rep. John Bradley (D-117); and RLC Interim President Charley Holstein.
“In the late 1970s, Rend Lake College had the distinction of offering one of the largest coal mining training programs in the United States,” Holstein explained. “We were a leader in providing new miner training, mandatory retraining and the education of mine maintenance technicians. ... Once again, Rend Lake College is poised and ready to be one of the largest coal mining training centers in the United States.”
The college has been awarded nearly $2.7 million in federal and state aid to design, engineer and construct the facility, equip it and provide training in its revitalized mining technology program. Provided through the Illinois Coal Competitiveness Program, this state grant from the Illinois DCEO counted for $1,072,500 toward building the 20,000 square-feet training center. Ribley, who represented Gov. Rod Blagojevich and the DCEO at the ceremony, read a letter from Gov. Blagojevich to Holstein.
“Developing this project, in partnership with the state of Illinois and federal government, highlights the vision of your institution and the commitment of Rend Lake College to being a leading force for economic betterment in Southern Illinois,” Ribley read. “...This ceremony today recognizes both that our investment in the future of coal continues, and that the dividends from that investment have begun to flow. As the nation searches feverishly for clean, affordable, secure sources of fuel, coal is the Comeback Kid of the energy game.”
According to Gov. Blagojevich, despite the shutdown of two large, older mines in Wabash and Macoupin counties, Illinois produced nearly 32.3 million tons of coal in 2007, down slightly from 2006 but above the average for the past five years. In April 2008, the state also completed five consecutive years of operations without experiencing a fatality in either its coal or aggregate mining operations.
Granberg, Forby and Bradley followed suit in their support of coal’s comeback and expressed an ongoing need for teamwork between legislative and industry leaders who work to bring the jobs to the area and the colleges that train a highly-skilled and safe workforce.
“Rend Lake College is the first junior college in the state to have this,” Granberg said. “We have to bind together. That’s the only way we can succeed in the long run.”
“Together, we will train a new generation of men and women to work safely and productively in bringing Illinois coal up out of the ground,” Ribley added.
The Illinois Office of Mines and Minerals, a division of the Department of Natural Resources, is projecting 2,000-plus new miners will be needed for the coal industry by 2015. As an example, Peabody Energy is preparing to open its new Lively Grove mine in Washington County in 2009, and is expected to hire more than 300 miners to produce coal at the mouth of Peabody’s new Prairie State Generating Station.
Information from the Office of Coal Development at the Illinois DCEO shows that 2,000 new miner positions, 2,000 replacement positions, and approximately 4,200 indirect jobs will be created in the next five to 10 years. New mines in Illinois include Mach Pond Creek, Black Beauty Wildcat Hills UG, KHC Prairie Eagle UG, and KHC Royal Falcon, according to the DCEO. New mines permitted and likely to come on line include Lively Grove & Jordan Mine and the mines that have submitted permit applications include Hillsboro Energy Deer Run, BBC Mary’s River, Locust Grove, Sugar Camp, and Ewing Mine. The number of positions needed were projected for some of the mines, however not all of the mines noted the number of needed positions.
Holstein said construction should be finished by March and that officials are working on when the first class will move in. He said it will most likely be Fall 2009.
“From the first turn of dirt today to the last bolt put in place months from now, this training center is the result of building relationships and the community working together,” Holstein said.
Located just north of the Mark S. Kern Applied Science Center, the Rend Lake College Coal Mining Training Center will be a 100-feet by 200-feet steel building designed with Sierra Tan brick to match other buildings on campus. The facility will include classroom and office space, operational coal mining equipment, and a mock mine. The training center will include a large, open space where the majority of equipment training will take place. It will feature operational coal mining equipment, such as continuous miners, roof bolters and shuttle cars. The north half of this facility is designed to resemble an underground coal mine for a variety of training purposes. It will have removable walls and other components, such as a pitch-black interior to simulate actual mining conditions, and a smoke machine will be used for practice mine rescue drills. This feature, in which the Illinois Department of Mines and Minerals has shown much interest, could be used to train mine rescue teams, not just RLC students. There will also be an outside area where fire safety training will be performed. If the college can acquire adequate machinery through donations, it could provide outdoor training on coal equipment.
Joining Holstein in the breaking of ground were Ribley, Granberg, Forby, Bradley, Mt. Vernon Mayor Mary Jane Chesley, McLeansboro Mayor Dick Dietz, Hamilton County Board Member Don Mitchell, DCEO Office of Coal Development Bureau Chief Bill Hoback, DCEO Office of Coal Development Coal Grants Manager Gary Philo, DCEO Office of Coal Development Coal Programs Manager Mike Murphy, IDNR Office of Mines and Minerals Director Joe Angleton; Illinois Community College Board President Guy Alongi, RLC Board of Trustees Chairman Bill Simpson and Vice Chair David Edmison; RLC Board members Randall Crocker, Bryan Drew, Hunt Bonan, Ed Cunningham and Marvin Scott; Prairie State Energy Campus Site Construction Manager C. R. Rick Mays, and White Oak Resources Manager of Operations Steve Rowland.
Other guests included Mine Safety Health Administration Supervisory Coal Mine Safety and Health Inspector Mike Rennie, United Mine Workers of America Coal Industry Liason Evan Sink, UMWA International District Representatives Gary Butler and Steve Jones, UMWA Training Coordinator Jodi Hogge, RLC Foundation Board of Directors members Chris Johnson, Rich Yunkus, Dr. Warren Petty and Hank Eisenga; former RLC Board member Joe Scrivner; and former RLC Mining Chairman Brad Evilsizer.