Mayor to restart Olive-Harvey project, despite state budget woes

SHARE Mayor to restart Olive-Harvey project, despite state budget woes

City Colleges of Chicago Chancellor Cheryl Hyman at a news conference in January. |Brian Jackson/ For the Sun-Times

Eight months after the state budget stalemate halted construction, Mayor Rahm Emanuel is taking matters into his own hands to restart work on a $45 million transportation, distribution and logistics center at Olive-Harvey College.

The project designed to train students for an estimated 110,000 jobs over the next 10 years was 60 percent complete when the Illinois Capital Development Board shut it down on June 30, 2015.

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

With Rauner and Democratic legislative leaders still at loggerheads over the governor’s demand for pro-business, anti-union reforms, Emanuel has grown tired of waiting for a project he views as critical to his colleges-to-careers makeover of the Chicago City Colleges.

On Thursday, construction will begin again on the 103,000-square-foot facility that’s expected to serve 3,000 Olive-Harvey students in hopes of completing the work in time for the fall 2017 semester.

The mayor’s office pegged the cost of completing the project at $23 million. That’s $4 million higher than originally planned, thanks to the eight-month delay and damage done during the shutdown, such as removing and replacing exposed outside insulation.

Roughly $12 million in new funds needed to complete the project will be generated by “shifting priorities” in City Colleges existing capital plan and “slowing down” scheduled technology and maintenance projects, officials said.

“We could have already had students learning in a state-of-the-art facility and working to gain skills they need to gain in-demand jobs if it weren’t for the state’s budget stalemate,” Emanuel was quoted as saying in a news release.

“We as a city can no longer wait for the state to resolve its issues. So, we will move ahead to ensure that our students receive the quality education that will prepare them for thousands of jobs coming to the region and for access to the middle class.”

Pressed to identify capital projects that would be sacrificed in favor of Olive-Harvey, City Hall cited two examples.

The include a slowdown in the planned, multi-year investment in smart classrooms and computers, and a delay in replacing or upgrading “non-urgent” equipment, such as furniture, plumbing, heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems, and facade and glass.

City Colleges Chancellor Cheryl Hyman acknowledged that the decision to go it alone would come at a price.

“Because other planned capital improvements will be put on hold as we make up for the state’s financial obligation, this will come at a cost to the more than 100,000 students, faculty and staff across City Colleges,” Hyman was quoted as saying.

“But we feel this is an absolutely essential project that will lead directly to jobs for Chicagoans. So, unlike the state, we are making it a top priority.”

The state-of-the-art facility is expected to include everything from vehicle bays, automotive and diesel engine laboratories, and simulated driving facilities to a central store warehouse that will serve as a supply chain hub for all seven City Colleges campuses, six satellites and district office.

Industry partners will help design the curriculum and ensure that City Colleges students “learn from experts using the most relevant technology in real-world scenarios,” Hyman said.

When construction shut down last summer, Hyman 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.

In the letter, Hyman urged 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.

At the time, 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 version you believe, the clock started ticking and costs started mounting for a financially strapped institution that had just raised tuition.

“The cost of restarting 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 said then.

“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.”

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