Western Illinois Campus on Hold While Backers Try to Secure Funding Print
News/Features - Local News
Tuesday, 02 August 2005 18:00
Progress on a new Western Illinois University campus on the Moline riverfront is at a standstill until officials can obtain the funding needed to do the initial architectural and engineering design required before construction can begin. Western Illinois University officials had hoped the first round of construction money would be appropriated by the Illinois General Assembly before it adjourned in May, but that didn’t happen.

Illinois State Senator Mike Jacobs said that he hopes to have construction started by summer 2006, and he formed a task force in April to figure out the best way to get the campus built on an accelerated schedule. But his aggressive goal might be difficult to reach, considering that it is expected to take a year for the initial architectural planning and engineering, components that at this point have no funding.

Jacobs worries that going through the traditional channel for construction money – the state – could delay construction by as many as 15 years. So he’s looking for private-sector money. Jacobs’ task force is set to release a set of recommendations for the new campus and its funding at a press conference on August 3.

The cost to build the entire new campus is expected to be roughly $50 million, and the project is slated to built in three phases. The first building, or phase one, will cost approximately $15 million—a combination of $2.4 million for architectural planning and engineering and $12.6 million for construction. Western Illinois University (WIU) made proposals for the full $15 million in this year’s state budget, but the General Assembly didn’t approve a capital appropriation, which is where the funding would normally be included.

Western Illinois University President Alvin Goldfarb said there is the possibility that a capital bill will be discussed in the fall veto session, and added that the university plans to submit another proposal for the $12.6 million to Governor Rod Blagojevich to put into his Fiscal Year 2006-7 budget. “Right now we are hoping to allocate that money from the Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity [DCEO] to pay for the architectural and engineering planning,” Goldfarb said. “If we can get that money soon, we’ll be able to start construction on the first building within a year or so.” Goldfarb said WIU is working with DCEO because there have been funds allocated to that agency, and the governor supports the new campus.

Porter McNeil, an advisor to Senator Jacobs who has also been helping the Illinois Quad City Chamber of Commerce push for the WIU campus, said area legislators have been contacting legislative leaders throughout the spring and summer to push for this initiative, specifically the $2.4 million from DCEO. He said he feels confident WIU will be able to secure those funds later this year.

“Because every region in the state is competing against ours for scarce state dollars, we are going to have to have a loud chorus of voices advocating for this Quad Cities riverfront campus expansion,” McNeil said. “We will need to explain why this investment of state dollars will result in tremendous growth throughout the entire region. We have our work cut out for us, but we have a great message.”

Two weeks ago McNeil joined DCEO Director Jack Lavin, Jacobs, former State Senator Denny Jacobs, and area labor leaders to advocate for Quad Cities projects, including the initial DCEO funding for the WIU expansion.

The only state funding allocated for the project thus far has been $324,000. Roughly $124,000 from the federal department of Housing & Urban Development was used for asbestos cleanup and removal in the first building of the project. The remaining $200,000 came from the Illinois Board of Higher Education in January 2004 for space assignment and initial designing of the campus. (See “An Uphill Battle” River Cities’ Reader Issue 525, April 20-26, 2005.)

Mike Jacobs acknowledged that his timetable is different from Western Illinois University’s. “I am much more interested in building the entire campus at once rather than in phases,” Jacobs said. “We need a four-year university now.” He said he wants to explore looking for funding from sources other than the state, including private companies.

Jacobs said there are two ways he plans to try to get the money: traditional and non-traditional. The traditional funding path, or what he referred to as Western University’s way, simply means money from the state, such as applying for capital funds, appropriations, and grants.

The non-traditional route, or his way, to finance the project is looking for funding from other sources, which includes getting private companies/industry involved with the project. Jacobs said he couldn’t address the issue of involving private companies because there were still some things to be finalized. But he did say there would be some form of a public/private partnership within this week’s recommendations, and several of them would address how private industry can become involved.

“We will be participating with numerous private entities in order to achieve our goal,” Jacobs said. “Quite frankly, if we’re not breaking ground by next summer, I’ll be extremely disappointed.”

Jacobs said other recommendations will include what the first building should look like, what kinds of programs should be offered, and the cost to staff it.
blog comments powered by Disqus