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DECATUR — An extended delay in a construction project at Richland Community College has led to an opportunity to create a highly visible outlet for student expression.

Since early September, students and others visiting campus have been invited to color on the temporary wall separating the Mueller Student Center with the stalled construction space for the future Student Success Center.

“It's becoming a sign of the times,” said Tracy Withrow, Richland's marketing coordinator who helped to develop the idea for the project along with theater professor Michelle Stephens and local artist Amy Rankin. “Coloring on a wall is one of those things you're told not to do growing up that we're now saying go ahead and do it.”

Coloring has become an increasingly popular activity among adults, so Withrow said the project was based in part on that trend.

“We added a coloring page in the student handbook,” Withrow said. “It's so popular this year.”

Briannica Houston and Dearian Lipson were among those in recent weeks adding their part to the wall.

“It's very creative,” Houston said. “It gives us something to do.”

The wall has become a collection of phrases, tributes and artistic expression. Although it's filling up, space is still available for more to be added.

“It's a good way to show how diverse people here are,” Lipson said.

The project has gotten students involved on campus in a new way during what has been an active start to the fall semester, said Jason Brooks, vice president of Richland's Student Government Association.

“The wall has brought a lot of activity,” Brooks said. “We've been looking for ways to reinvigorate the student body. This gives us a voice.”

The longer the wall sat blank in such a high traffic area, Withrow said the more there seemed to be a need to give the area more character. Markers are set out on a table for anybody passing by to use, although Withrow said some people have brought their own writing and drawing tools to use.

“We knew this had been up here a while,” Withrow said. “This gives them a chance to have fun with it.”

Richland officials aren't sure how long the wall will last with plans moving back onto track for restarting construction of the building intended to consolidate offices for student services into one spot. Offices were scattered with anticipation the construction would be completed in a more timely fashion. 

Richland had used its $1.175 million share of the project to start construction last year before it was caught in the state budget impasse.

After it was among the projects included in the June 30 budget agreement, the Illinois Capital Development Board recently released $4.2 million in funding for the project, clearing the way for restart plans to proceed. A meeting was held earlier this month with the contractor to discuss what is needed to restart construction.

An exact timetable hasn't been established, said Greg Florian, Richland vice president of finance and administration. He said the condition of the framework has deteriorated while it has remained unenclosed.

“We don't have the new schedule from all the contractors,” Florian said. “We're scheduling a building analysis to find out how much damage has been done.”

Changes to original plans are being considered to keep expenses in line as crews are being asked to justify any cost increases from the delay.

Florian estimates a start date about Nov. 1, with construction expected to last six to eight months with the onset of winter being a factor. He said that estimate would likely allow the center to open by late summer.

“The weeds are starting to be knocked down,” Florian said. “It won't look like a ghost town much longer.”

Withrow knows the wall won't remain up forever, but she's among those hoping the artwork can be preserved, possibly even incorporated into the layout of the new Student Success Center.

“It's changed the space,” Withrow said. “It's hopefully not going to go away.”

Pictures of the changes have been taken and posted on Richland's social media pages, so Withrow said at the very least a record of how it's looked and developed can be kept that way.

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