Rend Lake College officials were granted a long-awaited wish Wednesday as Governor Rod Blagojevich released $1.7 million for the completion of the Career and Applied Technology Center.
Current plans call for an 18,100-square-foot facility which will allow Rend Lake College to expand its Heavy Equipment Technology, Diesel Technology, Agricultural Business, Agricultural Mechanics and Horticulture programs.
RLC President Mark Kern said the college has had a very successful agriculture program since 1968. He said college officials have known the program could expand, but were limited by space.
"This is really a tremendous boost," Kern said. He added that while Blagojevich did not indicate Wednesday exactly when the money will be "put in the pipeline," as soon as the money becomes available the work can begin.
"Our old shop was only about 7,000 square feet," Kern said. Now, RLC students will have the opportunity to work on equipment such as bulldozers and heavy trucks thanks to the new building.
Ed Billingsley, Applied Science Division Chair, said expanded facilities are sorely needed. "We are overcrowded and enrollment is extremely high," Billingsley said.
"We will be the regional school for agriculture," he added. "We’re very excited about this."
RLC is required to match one quarter of the cost of the project - about $500,000 - which is in place. According to Kern, the college received permission from the state to use a portion of that local match to begin doing earthwork at the building site, located on the southwest side of campus.
The project will be bid with two alternates, one for a 4,416-square-foot addition to the building and the other for a paved parking lot to be used by the Career and Applied Technology Center and the Advanced Technology Center.
Depending upon whether the alternate bids are accepted, the total cost of the project could range from $2 million to $2.7 million, Kern said.
News of the funding came Wednesday from Blagojevich as he launched the third of 10 regional economic development plans, an initiative package called "Opportunity Returns," at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale.
"If there’s any single way that we can make people’s lives better, it’s by creating opportunity so people can work," he said.
"Rend Lake College’s Agricultural Mechanics program has been a valuable and important program to the entire Southern Illinois region for the past three decades," according to information from Blagojevich’s office. "It has been a training program not only for agriculture dealers, but also for construction and trucking equipment companies.
"Expanding the Career and Applied Technology Center will provide adequate space for a new agriculture technology course and heavy truck repair program, which has been recommended by the local Agriculture Business Advisory Committee."
Students from 100 miles in nearly all directions attend the Ag Mechanics program and placement of these students upon graduation is equally far-ranging.
RLC has been approached by the trucking industry in the region to train entry-level technicians. While some students training on ag equipment can transfer those skills to heavy truck technology, the college needs to expand the program to include training specific to the trucking industry. Current space at the college cannot accommodate vehicles of that size.
The strand-steel building will feature a brick front to match other buildings on campus. It will include a 14,000-square-foot shop area, office space, five classrooms (some featuring glass walls for demonstrations) and a service pit which will allow students to work underneath heavy trucks.
The college will be able to host annual Future Farmers of America District and Section contests in the new building, as it has for many years. More than 400 students participate in these contests annually. Classrooms also can be used to host agriculture meetings for the public in conjunction with the University of Illinois Extension Service.