DECATUR — Construction crews have become a familiar sight for Richland Community College faculty, students and staff since the last academic year.

“This is really exciting, and it’s going fast,” Greg Florian, Richland’s vice president of finance and administration, said of the $16 million project that includes building additions, renovations and the new Workforce Development Institute.

The institute is a 45,000-square-foot building that will house a fitness and wellness center as well as the college’s auto body, auto technology, diesel technology and building trades programs.

The ongoing campus construction project also includes the addition of a new culinary arts dining room, renovation of the college’s existing fitness and locker room space into an Early Childhood and Education Center and transformation of the college’s auto technology space into a larger welding lab.

“Seeing the culinary arts dining room come together so quickly gets us all excited,” said chef Brian Tucker, director of the college’s Culinary Arts Institute. “It will provide our students with great hands-on opportunities before they go out into the culinary world.”

Watching construction crews make progress on the projects throughout the spring and summer, Florian said the work demonstrates how much the college is evolving and changing.

“This lets us see that we’re a growing campus,” he said.

The 18-month Workforce project, which officially began in April, is projected to be ready for use by next fall. But if the campus master plan, which includes several immediate and intermediate projects, is any indication, construction crews may not be leaving when the current projects are completed.

“We actually just finished an intermediate project by upgrading our south wing (in the main campus building),” Florian said, noting that after 24 years, the wing was given new carpet, ceiling tiles and repainted walls and will be getting new equipment and furniture for classrooms. The project was made possible by $195,000 in state funding, released by Gov. Pat Quinn in March.

“But our next big project is the Student Success Center,” he said.

College President Gayle Saunders said the $3.5 million center, another state-funded project that will consolidate all of the student services into one place, has been in Richland’s plans for years.

The plan for the center was conceived in 2003, and the college has been waiting for the release of state funding since June 2009.

She explained that the goal of the center is to deliver student services in a more organized way.

“The center will really change our philosophy on how we provide service to students,” she said. “The center will give us all of the space and opportunities we need for a new student or a prospective student to enter Richland Community College and know how to access all of its services in one location, or for a continuing student to constantly know where they can come back to get any services that they might need while they’re on their journey through their degree programs.”

The plans call for the extension of the college’s north wing by nearly 13,000 square feet and the renovation of the space that is being used currently for administrative and student services.

Saunders said the new Student Success Center will be a one-stop shop for students who will be served at information stations.

“They will be able to talk about what their interests or needs are with student services staff, and from that point, the staff members will determine what the best map is (for the student)” and will connect the student with the appropriate staff member who will best be able to serve them, she said.

“Instead of the student being sent to a lot of different places around campus … the student will sit at an information station and the staff members or advisers they need to talk to will come to them.”

With plans for interactive video screens that will provide students with more information on the college’s programs, as well as more smart technology, Saunders said she is excited for the project, which is awaiting approval from the Capital Development Board and the state. She is hopeful construction bids for the 18-month project will be out by next spring and the north wing addition enclosed before 2015.

Another large project Richland hopes to embark on in the near future is the Business Education Center, an estimated $5.5 million project that will help redesign and renovate about 10,800 square feet on the second floor of the college’s main building, and add 12,000 square feet adjacent to its south wing.

Supported by a $1.7 million gift from the Dell and Evelyn Carroll Estate, the business center will help freshen up an area of campus that was built 25 years ago and help meet the technological needs of Richland’s current and future business students.

“Today’s students are digital natives,” said Jack Adwell, dean of Business and Technology. “Their world is one that is global, and it is one that is changing. And so, therefore, when we provide them with education, we must provide them with more than just job skills; we must provide them with transferable skills that will help them adapt to those changes in their lives and in their world.”

He noted that the Carroll Estate’s gift, bestowed to the college by Evelyn Carroll’s cousin, Gary Likins, will help Richland business students navigate an increasingly sophisticated business field.

“This gift will allow us to develop new interactive learning-based curriculums that will focus both on job skills and transferable skills … and will give our students exposure to entrepreneurship and international business, as well as project learning, smart technology and real-world experience,” he said.

While the project doesn’t yet have a concrete schedule, Saunders said she is optimistic Richland will have a business center within the next three years.

“We’re not really adding square footage so much as we’re reinventing a space that currently exists so that it has a life span for the next 30 or 40 years in a 21st-century learning environment,” she said. “It provides us with a new teaching and learning space like nothing we’ve ever been able to do on the associate degree side of the house,” which could also help promote four-year partnerships with universities.

Richland also has been working on the $1.2 million Clinton Extension Center, a 4,200-square-foot facility just south of the city’s high school, that construction crews broke ground on in early January. With drywall going up and parking lots being constructed, Florian said the building should be open by the end of October.

There also are several other  projects on the radar, including a sustainable walkway for the college’s National Sequestration and Education Center, an arboretum that would act as a display garden for native Illinois trees, a life sciences addition that would include more instructional space for the life sciences program and an Agribusiness Applied Technology Park project.

“Community is our middle name, so our focus is always on what’s going to be coming forward for those who live and reside here and want to be prosperous here,” Saunders said. “We have so much opportunity in Decatur, whether it be in solar technology, wind technology, sequestration, agribusiness or food technology, and the college needs to get prepared and ready to share what we can share with students to get them skill-ready for those jobs and careers when they arrive. We just want the students to be successful and to be able to get those jobs.”

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