State budget mess stalls $45M Olive-Harvey project

SHARE State budget mess stalls $45M Olive-Harvey project

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s plan to build a $45 million transportation, distribution and logistics center at Olive-Harvey College to train students for the burgeoning number of jobs in those fields has become a casualty of the state budget stalemate.

The Illinois Capital Development Board on June 30 halted construction of the 200,000-square-foot project, which was 65 percent complete.

It happened after Gov. Bruce Rauner signed House Bill 4166, which re-appropriated funding for road construction and capital projects viewed as critical to economic development. The Olive-Harvey expansion was not one of them.

City Colleges Chancellor Cheryl Hyman has fired off a letter to the governor vowing to pursue “any and all legal action” to force the state to lift the brick on the Olive-Harvey expansion.

Four hundred construction jobs are hanging in the balance. So is the final cost and already-delayed January opening of a center tailor-made to prepare 6,000 students a year for the 110,000 well-paying jobs expected to become available over the next decade in the fields of transportation, distribution and logistics.

“The future of this region can be pinned on how well I can prepare a trained and skilled work force. I can’t do that if I don’t have the facilities to train students who depend on these institutions to prepare them for jobs in these industries. I’m denying up to 6,000 students a year the opportunity to get high-skilled, high-demand, high-paying jobs,” Hyman said.

<small><strong>City Colleges Chancellor Cheryl Hyman | Sun-Times file photo</strong></small>

City Colleges Chancellor Cheryl Hyman | Sun-Times file photo

To date, the state has lived up to nearly $24 million of its $31.6 million commitment to the Olive-Harvey project.

“I understand that the state and the governor are in a difficult position financially. I still have $13 million of my own matching dollars to move forward. I was not even asking for their $8 million. I was just saying I want the ability to finish building the project on my own and they said, ‘No and we’ll sue you if you try to pursue it,’” she said.

In her letter, Hyman urges the governor to green-light a project the chancellor called pivotal to creating career opportunities in a Far South Side neighborhood “in dire need of stable jobs and investment.”

But she closed with a thinly veiled threat.

“In the absence of cooperation from the state of Illinois in this matter, City Colleges will have no choice but to pursue any and all legal options to ensure that: 1)the state complies with the grant agreement and 2) City Colleges is allowed to proceed with this vitally needed economic development project,” she wrote.

Rauner’s spokesperson Catherine Kelly offered a simple explanation for why the Olive-Harvey project was halted.

“The General Assembly’s budget did not include appropriation for this project in the FY16 Capital Bill,” Kelly wrote in an email.

Capital Development Board Chairman Jim Reilly blamed the protracted budget stalemate between the governor and House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, over Rauner’s unyielding demand for pro-business, anti-union reforms.

“There’s no appropriation. Therefore, we can’t go forward spending money. . . . We had to shut down most of the projects because there’s no appropriation on spending,” Reilly said.

Contradicting Hyman, the governor’s office insisted that City Colleges “was given the opportunity to continue the project using its own funds, but it has not responded to that offer.”

No matter which side you believe, the clock is ticking and costs are mounting for a financially strapped institution that just raised tuition.

“The cost of re-starting the project is $2 million. But every day that building remains exposed, it’s exposed to elements, vandalism, theft and environmental damage. That’s not to mention materials that were supposed to be purchased by now. Every day that $2 million re-start amount continues to grow and grow,” Hyman told the Chicago Sun-Times.

<small><strong>Olive-Harvey College’s transportation, distribution and logistics center was about 65 percent complete when work stopped. | Provided photo</strong></small>

Olive-Harvey College’s transportation, distribution and logistics center was about 65 percent complete when work stopped. | Provided photo

The new building at Olive-Harvey wasbilled as a boost to a “colleges-to-careers” makeover at City Colleges that also includes a $251 million replacement for Malcolm X College to focus on health care jobs.

The new building will replace 112,000 square feet of temporary classroom space adjacent to the main Olive-Harvey building at 10001 S. Woodlawn.

“This will be the only transportation, distribution and logistics school in the state of Illinois in a field that, in the next 10 years, will produce 28,000 new jobs,” Emanuel said in March 2012 on the day the project was unveiled.

After touring a temporary classroom building where students were training for commercial driver’s licenses, the mayor said,”every one of the people we just met” was working toward a second career.

“That’s not a graduate of a high school in the room next door. That’s a veteran. That’s a person laid off. That’s a person between jobs. That’s a person going to night school — all saying, ‘This is 28 bucks an hour. I want to move up the economic ladder,’” the mayor said then.

Noting that the ugly classroom buildings constructed at Olive-Harvey in 1970 were supposed to be temporary, Emanuel said, “Olive-Harvey went up, [but] they never came down. … Forty-two years later, the temporary is coming to an end.”

At the 2012 news conference, Gov. Pat Quinn said he once taught night school students at two community colleges — Triton and Prairie State — and understood better than anyone the need to strengthen community colleges.

“That’s really what today is all about. It’s taking community college and converting that educational opportunity into a career — an opportunity to have a meal ticket to the middle class,” he said that day.

Transportation and logistics giants such as United and American Airlines, United Parcel Service, Union Pacific and Canadian National Railway have pledged to help design the Olive-Harvey curriculum, teach and mentor students and, officials hope, hire students after they graduate.

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