|An Uphill Battle|
|News/Features - Local News|
|Tuesday, 19 April 2005 18:00|
Recently appointed Illinois state Senator Mike Jacobs is spearheading a new task force to look for ways to speed up construction of a new Western Illinois University - Quad Cities campus on the Moline riverfront.
That won’t be easy. Building the campus on Jacobs’ timeline would require either a large amount of private cash – which has not been raised yet – or state financing far beyond what the Illinois General Assembly has even considered to this point.
The cost to complete the new campus is expected to be roughly $50 million, but Jacobs hopes to find funding from sources other than state government. The senator said he hopes to have the new riverfront campus open with 5,000 students attending classes by fall 2006.
The only state funding allocated for the project thus far has been $324,000. Roughly $124,000 will be used for some asbestos removal in the first building of the project, and approximately $200,000 will be used to begin architectural planning for the construction of the campus.
Western Illinois University has submitted two proposals to the state for $2.4 million and $12.6 million to fund the first part of the project. The smaller amount would pay for architectural and engineering planning, while the larger request would fund construction of one building.
Jacobs said he believes that the current $50-million price tag for the campus is too high. “There are a lot of numbers out there that really don’t mean anything, so what we’re attempting to do is put a real price tag to the actual cost of building Western Illinois,” he said. “I think that a lot of the dollar amounts that have been generated by the university so far do not reflect what the true cost will be because they’re not in the business of construction.”
Jacobs, a Democrat from East Moline, was appointed to the Senate to represent the 36th District on February 9, 2005, after his father, longtime state Senator Denny Jacobs, retired. The younger Jacobs will be up for election in 2006.
The riverfront campus will be located on a 20-acre piece of land that previously housed Deere & Company’s Engineering Technical Center at 3300 River Drive in Moline. It will feature up to three main buildings for classes and other academic services, in addition to a private mixed-use development – including student and faculty housing, campus amenities, and business flex space.
In an effort to lower the cost and complete the campus in one phase, Jacobs said he will try to obtain the full construction cost at once by raising money from the private sector.
“We are asking more private businesses to come and look [at the campus], and help us publicly find ways to be more efficient,” Jacobs said. “I highly believe that with private industry involved in this project that we can bring that number [$50 million] way down.
“The government is not really in the business of building things, and private entrepreneurs are,” he continued, “so I’m going to call on them to help us build this project.”
Jacobs said Deere & Company has requested that Western Illinois have an engineering program at the riverfront campus, and several other high-tech companies have inquired about land in and around the campus site. To date, however, no private companies have contributed money to the campus-expansion project.
The idea to create the task force came out of a conversation between Governor Rod Blagojevich and Jacobs, who said the governor challenged him to create a private-public partnership to help fund construction of the new campus.
Jacobs officially appointed the 23 members of the new task force on April 8, with Rick Baker, president and CEO of the Illinois Quad City Chamber of Commerce, as the chair. The task force includes representatives of private-sector companies such as the , Thoms Proestler Company, and Deere & Company; officials from municipal and county governments; and several representatives of Western Illinois University.
Baker and Jacobs decided to break up the task force into three separate groups: construction and operations; finance and legal; and political and community affairs. Those groups met for the first time last week.
The task force’s main charges include building support for the project; exploring ways to finance the campus, including securing money in the Fiscal Year 2005-6 state budget; and determining what it will cost to build and run the campus. “We need to find out what exactly we will be getting for the $50 million,” Jacobs said.
According to Baker, breaking up the task force was the best way to accomplish those goals by May 27, the scheduled adjournment date for the Illinois General Assembly. If the task force doesn’t get its recommendations in front of the governor and legislators by the adjournment date, any funding request would have to wait until the Fiscal Year 2006-7 budget – which would make Jacobs’ fall-2006 target date nearly impossible to accomplish.
“It’s not going to be a long, drawn-out process,” Baker said. “We want to get together, make our recommendations, and develop our plan very quickly.”
Andrew Ross, a spokesperson for the governor, said the $2.4-million request for riverfront-campus engineering and architecture was included in Blagojevich’s proposed 2005-6 state capital budget, which he presented to the General Assembly on February 16.
As currently conceived, the Western Illinois University - Quad Cities expansion project includes three elements. Phase one of the project is the conversion of the former Deere technology building on the riverfront site. Renovation of the 40,0000-square-foot building, which was donated by Deere & Company in 2003, is expected to cost $15 million.
The second and third phases would include the development of green space and construction of one or two more campus buildings.
Dr. Jeanne Clerc, associate provost at Western Illinois University - Quad Cities, said the university expects the first phase to take up to three years to complete after the funding has been approved – one year to do the architectural and engineering planning and two or more years to finish the construction and renovations.
Jacobs acknowledged that his fall-2006 timeframe for the campus is optimistic. “It is a tight deadline and is very aggressive,” he said. “I have talked with developers from all across Illinois, who have assured that if we get the state’s approval, and everyone is in agreement, that they can begin to build this project. And from the beginning of this project to the end, we can be talking about 150 days until completion.
“Our full intent is to build Western Illinois now, start construction this year, and if not, we’ll be right back here next year.”
John Maguire, assistant vice president for university relations at Western Illinois, said that in the past, building projects the size of the riverfront campus have usually taken three or more years to complete after the plans have been presented to the state. He added that he’s been at the university since 1977, and when the Western Illinois acquired its current Quad Cities facility just off John Deere Road in Moline, it took about three years to build. “Normal procedures [through the state] to colleges like Western University generally haven’t allowed such an accelerated time frame,” Maguire said regarding Jacobs’s fall-2006 goal.
That’s not the only situation in which Jacobs’ goals and the university’s targets diverge. The current enrollment at Western Illinois in the Quad Cities is roughly 1,200 students, and Clerc said she expects the new campus to increase that amount to approximately 3,000. But Jacobs said he feels that is a conservative amount, and that it will be closer to 5,000 students.
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