Heartland Community College has hired an architect to design an agriculture complex on campus, but school officials say the size and scope the proposed complex will depend on available funding.
The Heartland Board of Trustees on Tuesday approved an agreement with Chicago-based Legat Architects to begin design work on the project.
School officials expect construction to cost up to $25 million. Jim Hubbard, executive director of facilities and public safety, said Heartland is seeking state funding to cover at least some of the costs.
“We are optimistic that they will fund it, but we also recognize the situation that the state is in right now, in terms of revenue and expenses,” Hubbard said.
Heartland President Keith Cornille said the school will likely need to fundraise or use bonds to cover part of the cost for the proposed 48,000-square foot project. He said the school could reduce the size, or build in phases, depending on funding. Construction could take 12 to 18 months.
Cornille said the college will likely launch a public fund drive in late 2021.
He said the ag complex is long overdue, noting Heartland has had an agriculture program since 2015.
“As we continue to grow in that area and expand our programs in that area, it was clear that we didn’t have the types of facilities that are necessary to support those academic programs,” Cornille said.
Heartland included the ag complex in its most recent facilities master plan that calls for offices,
classroom and laboratory space and the use of solar and geothermal energy so it is a net-zero energy facility.
Heartland is seeking to expand its ag program to offer what Cornille described as work-ready certificates in agri-business and related fields starting next fall. Those could include programs for drones, pesticide applications and how to become a certified crop advisor.
The courses are awaiting approval from the Illinois Community College Board and the Illinois Board of Higher Education, said Cornille, adding the courses would become part of the school’s existing associate in applied science degree program.
Also Tuesday, the board of trustees approved a plan to sell $10.35 million in funding bonds that will pay off taxable bonds the district issued previously, school officials said.
Cornille said the money will be used mostly for “small projects and general maintenance type projects” in facilities and technology.
Vice President of Finance and Administration Letisha Trepac said the bonds won’t increases the district’s tax rate. The district has a AA+ bond rating.
Cornille also said the school likely won't know until January the financial impact of a recent cyberattack on the school's computer systems, and that school is still well positioned to absorb an expected drop in enrollment, but he didn't rule out some cuts in course offerings.
“That could mean that we have to make some adjustments as we always do in every budget. If we have a reduction in classes, then we have a corresponding reduction in some of our wages,” Cornille said. “We will have some (enrollment) decline I’m sure, but financially and otherwise I think that we’re in a good place."
Trepac said the cyberattack pushed back enrollment 15 days.
Heartland received $2 million in COVID relief through the federal CARES Act in the spring. Trepac said the school has since spent those funds.
“We will continue to incur some expense related to COVID as we continue through the current health crisis,” Trepac said.
Cornille and other school administrators are working the phones to help keep students in school.
Enrollment projections are down for the spring semester at Heartland and many other schools due to the pandemic and other factors.
Cornille said the school is trying to connect with students to find out what support they need as they try to learn in a mostly virtual environment.
“It’s a matter of us reaching out and talking with the student and really trying to understand where they are at, helping them think through what it best for them at the moment, and then getting them the assistance that they need,” Cornille said.
He said Heartland is looking for ways to provide more tutoring, and the spring semester will offer a few more in-person classes and more classes that enable students to meet virtually with teachers and other students more often.
There's no subscription fee to listen or read our stories. Everyone can access this essential public service thanks to community support. Donate now, and help fund your public media.