DECATUR — Jill Feinstein fell in love with science because of a grade school teacher who was passionate about the subject. After 16 years of instructing science courses at Richland Community College, she will soon teach in brand new, state-of-the-art classrooms and laboratories.
“Being able to have the equipment we need and to have space for students to move is a big deal,” Feinstein said.
Construction for the first phase in a wide-ranging renovation plan for Richland could start next year. Administrative officials have been working on a plan that calls for major upgrades to science classrooms and laboratories, the expansion of health science classrooms and other renovated areas on campus.
President Cris Valdez said the board chose between three scenarios regarding the science lab portion of the project. Scenarios ranged from $384,000 to $12 million. Board members ultimately landed on a plan that costs about $7.5 million that would mean lower operational costs by over $1 million compared to the other scenarios, according to documents by BLDD Architects.
The first part of the plan is separated into two construction phases, said Greg Florian, vice president of finance and administration. The college’s Board of Trustees voted last week to use a $15 million bond for the first part of the plan, which includes co-locating upgraded science rooms, expanding health science rooms and making 21st-century upgrades similarly to those done to the school’s Carroll Center for Innovative Learning in 2017. The bond would be repaid over 12 years.
Feinstein currently teaches biology, physiology and anatomy courses throughout several classrooms across campus. The renovations will centralize all of the science rooms to the south wing of the main building's first floor.
“It will be nice to have all of the science labs in one spot,” she said. “If we can incorporate some of the technology in the Carroll Center, that would be great.”
The labs in the Carroll Center currently have televisions at every table, Feinstein said. She said she would like to be able to project a presentation onto each of the televisions for lab work.
“It would also be helpful to have Bunsen burners,” she said. “It will be nice to have a lab that is fully equipped with everything we need.”
The project continues the evolution of Richland, part of the Illinois Community College System. The school was founded in the early 1970s as the Community College of Decatur and was later based in the Millikin National Bank Building and a rented warehouse on Federal Drive.
It was renamed Richland in winter 1975 and ground broke on the current 155-acre campus on the north side of Decatur in 1986. It has been expanded frequently to meet growing and changing demand, from the Shilling Community Education Center in 1992 and Industrial Technology Center in 2002 to the Schrodt Health Education Center in 2003 and other projects.
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Enrollment jumped 15% this year compared to last, with full-time student enrollment increasing 7.5%, following years of declines. The school also faced challenges following the state's multi-year budget impasse.
The full scope of the master plan is vast and includes renovations throughout campus as well as the potential new construction of a student recreation center. Local architecture firm BLDD was selected by college officials to help design and carry out the plans.
The entire project, which would be implemented in several phases, is outlined in a July packet prepared by BLDD. Florian said they are only looking immediately at the first two phases and could pursue additional renovations included in the plan at a later time.
Bruce Maxey, the BLDD architect leading the project, said they gathered data through a student and staff survey to assess the facilities. There were a total of 129 respondents, of which 83 were students, 24 staff and 22 faculty members. The survey covered many aspects of the project. A set of five questions asked respondents what they believe is required for them to be successful at Richland. The most common topics cited by students were to have inviting, welcoming, engaging spaces; quiet/private spaces; and less crowded, noisy, distracting spaces.
Student center area upgrades are included in the second part of the project, Florian said.
“The second phase will look at the whole center core or the student center,” Florian said. “We’ll open up the center core so you can transition from front to back.”
The center would be an enlarged center core area that connects with the campus quad. It would create a renovated library, updated educational environments and dining areas and other upgrades. The area would become the "hub of campus and be an inviting environment for welcoming students" according to the packet.
Florian said the board in the future could consider additional upgrades also in the master plan. Shilling Auditorium could see upgrades. A free-standing student recreation center could be on the horizon as well but Florian said these plans would not happen for another five to 10 years.
"We are upgrading our facilities to be state-of-the-art which is in the best interest of our students and professors," Valdez said. "We are hoping this will encourage an even better learning environment for the students."