EAST PEORIA — A federal grant will allow Illinois Central College to build a new, expanded workforce-training building that could open by late 2020 or early 2021.
The $3 million Economic Development Administration grant for ICC's Workforce Sustainability Center was announced Tuesday afternoon.
It's slated, with the aid of state and local funds, to replace the Dirksen Hall structure that dates to the opening of the East Peoria campus more than 50 years ago.
"As I look at the economy now, we need people for what I call these 'new-collar' jobs," U.S. Rep. Darin LaHood said by phone, differentiating them from white- or blue-collar work. "You need some training, you need some experience, you need some educational skills to put you in that position, and ICC has been at the forefront of that."
Material presented to the school's board of trustees earlier this year indicated the building would house programs including HVAC work, solar panel installation, a new geothermal energy program, truck driver training, highway construction, machinist training, computer-aided drafting, machinist training and other high-demand career programs.
"I think we're getting people's attention on these jobs," ICC President Sheila Quirk-Bailey said in an interview.
LaHood credited her for bolstering the school's focus on such programs.
All told, the building will provide work space and classrooms for 13 programs, Quirk-Bailey said.
"The students completing these programs will be integral to meeting our area's current and emerging workforce needs over the next decade, particularly in manufacturing and renewable energy technologies," she said. "This building will showcase the best of sustainable practices, not only in its design and operations, but also in its functionality as it provides credentials for the green industry workforce."
LaHood said the demand exists from local employers to hire graduates of those programs.
"When I travel around my district, specifically when I talk to business owners, the No. 1 issue that comes up is finding a qualified workforce," he said.
Local business leaders agreed.
"When we work with businesses — whether already in the region, looking to startup and scale up, or looking to locate here — we consistently hear that workforce is their number one priority," Greater Peoria Economic Development Council CEO Chris Setti said in a prepared statement. "ICC's Workforce Sustainability Center will help our region fill those critical jobs and help our citizens find meaningful work."
Quirk-Bailey credited Setti's efforts to push Economic Development Administration officials in the area, "basically saying one of our biggest workforce needs is credentialing and developing (skills)."
Together, "students and educators alike will be able to leverage this funding to grow the local economy and build a stronger workforce here in Illinois,” U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos said in a prepared statement.
The federal money will be used alongside $6 million of local and state funds in the $9 million project.
About $3 million in state dollars had been waiting for years to be coupled with federal funds. Quirk-Bailey said state Sen. Chuck Weaver was integral in working with Gov. JB Pritzker's administration to ensure that money that had "fallen off" planned expenditures would get reinstated if the federal grant came through.
The remaining $3 million or so for construction will come from ICC reserve funds, and another $1 million or so will be spent by the school to outfit the building.
The new site to replace Dirksen Hall comes none too soon, Quirk-Bailey said.
With the aged building's wiring, people in HVAC programs operating there now are "unplugging one machine to plug in another."