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Heartland Community College cuts the ribbon on $23 million agriculture complex

The long-awaited Heartland Community College [HCC] Agriculture Complex was officially unveiled to the public on Wednesday.

Heartland staff, students, local officials, farm group representatives and others packed the McLean County Farm Bureau Agriculture Lab inside the 29,500-square-foot Ag Complex for the opening. The complex also houses the Growmark FS Atrium, Funk Family Foundation Outdoor Learning Center and both instructional and community learning space.

“This is really a community center for agriculture right here in central Illinois,” said HCC president Keith Cornille, who led a ribbon-cutting event to celebrate the center’s public debut.

“We are already working with a number of groups outside our instructional space for learning experiences, such as 4-H and FFA," he said. "We have a commitment to not only work with our students in preparing them for the workforce, but also with youth and getting them engaged in agriculture. Even if your love is in the IT or chemical space, that can all fit into the ag industry. We want to develop future leaders for agriculture right here.”

Originally estimated to cost around $23.4 million, the final cost for the ag complex appears to have come in closer to $23 million, according to Cornille. The cost included a $2 million donation from the McLean County Farm Bureau, and an additional $2 million grant from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation to bring the building into “net zero” energy performance efficiency.

The HCC Foundation is seeking another $7 million in private and corporate donations to help cover construction expenses.

“That [donation goal] is right on target,” Cornille told WGLT. “I think we’ve raised about $6.8 million, so we are really close to that target. When you layer on the additional $2 million grant, it enables us to start to reduce the cost of the bonds and other [expenses].”

Money saved from the bonds the school issued for construction could be used to fund other programs, according to Heartland spokesperson Steve Fast.

Student growth

At the time of the Ag Complex's groundbreaking event last year, HCC’s agriculture program boasted 50 full-time students. Classes officially began in the Ag Complex with the start of the spring semester on Jan. 16, with enrollment at capacity or near-capacity levels.

“Our target for further enrollment growth is next fall,” said Cornille, “and we’re very confident that we will have 200 students in our programs through certificates and other types of enrollment activities here at the college.”

As WGLT previously reported, the college expanded its ag-related course offerings to include a two-year associate's degree in applied science in agriculture, along with stackable certificates in agribusiness, agronomy, precision ag and regenerative agriculture that students can obtain on their path toward a degree.

One of the students working toward a four-year degree is Lauren Monk, a freshman from Heyworth who plans to transfer to Illinois State University after her sophomore year to pursue a bachelor’s degree in agricultural education. She was among the speakers at Wednesday's ceremony who praised the new facility.

“One of the biggest [advantages] is being able to get as many credits completed as possible before transferring while staying on campus as long as possible. I love it here on campus, especially with the new ag building — it’s phenomenal,” Monk said.

Growmark FS executive vice president of human resources Ashley McClintock also was among those to address the large crowd gathered for the ribbon cutting. Moving forward, McClintock said the Ag Complex should provide a steady source of job candidates for ag-related businesses and cooperatives such as Growmark.

“By offering these students the experience and the hands-on education that they need to succeed in the industry, we are not only preparing them for successful careers, but also cultivating a sustainable pipeline of future workers,” she said.

“These individuals will be the stewards of our lands, the innovators of the future and the backbone of our local economy. We are investing in the future of our students and our communities.”

In addition to the McLean County Farm Bureau, Growmark and Funk Family Foundation, support for the Ag Complex project came from a number of other sources, including Precision Planting, Illinois Soybean Association, Cargill and others.

Tim Alexander is a correspondent for WGLT. He joined the station in 2022.
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