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Heartland college board approves construction for new agricultural complex

Emily Bollinger
The ag complex will be built on the west side of Heartland’s campus.

The Heartland Community College Board of Trustees on Tuesday approved construction of a $23.4 million agricultural complex.

McLean County produces more corn and soybeans than any other county in the U.S., and in explanatory remarks prior to the vote, Heartland President Keith Cornille urged that the expansion of the college’s agriculture program is long overdue in order to continue that level of output.

“This is a major sector in business needs in our community, and it’s what makes our community strong,” Cornille said, “and we have to make sure that the college is responding to the business sectors that are growing and developing in our community.”

Funded by a $7.5 million grant from the state of Illinois, Heartland is already working in conjunction with electric vehicle manufacturer Rivian on a jobs-training program for EV technicians.

Talent in the EV industry, however, is arriving from a number of places external to Bloomington-Normal. Cornille said that with this expansion, Heartland aims to promote and retain agricultural talent within the community.

In a 2019 survey of Illinois that Cornille called an “environmental scan,” Heartland found that in 2018 there were more than 4,500 job listings in the agriculture industry, and only 2,900 people submitted applications to fill those positions. Additionally, the survey found that 70% of people who worked in agriculture at that time said they were within two years of retirement.

“There is a significant gap in the jobs that are needed to keep our economy strong and our ag growing here in Central Illinois with the number of people that are qualified to meet those demands,” Cornille said.

The ag complex will be built on the west side of Heartland’s campus. The 29,500-square-foot facility will contain classrooms, laboratories, a large group flex space, green houses, food forest, and growing plots to support agronomy, precision agriculture, agriculture business, and regenerative agriculture certificate programs. The facility will also serve as a community resource for area 4-H, FFA and other agriculture organizations.

The final bid for construction, awarded to River City Construction, came in at $182,000 over initial cost projections.

Heartland has already secured $19 million in funding for the complex: $14 million through bond sales, a $2 million grant from the Illinois Clean Energy Communities Fund (the complex will be a net-zero energy building), and another $3.25 million through fundraising.

Heartland Vice President of Finance and Administration Letisha Trepac told the board that there would be no local tax increases to fund the complex.

A date has not yet been set for breaking ground on the project, but citing volatility in labor and material costs in the construction industry, Trepac urged that construction begin as soon as possible before unknown costs arise.

Philip Walker is a correspondent for WGLT. He joined the station in 2022.