Olive-Harvey project restarts, as state threatens to sue

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City Colleges Chancellor Cheryl Hyman and Mayor Rahm Emanuel tour a Olive-Harvey construction site in 2016. | Fran Spielman/For Sun-TImes

Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Thursday restarted construction on a $45 million transportation, distribution and logistics center at Olive-Harvey College and dared his old friend, Gov. Bruce Rauner, to follow through on a threat to sue City Colleges to stop the project.

“Eight months ago, the state of Illinois put a padlock on that door and said, `Stop work. We’re not going to continue to fund our part of the contract . . . That is nuts . . . City Colleges had to file a Freedom of Information [request] to get the blueprints architecturally and engineering to go forward,” Emanuel said.

“The state told us, `If you spend your own money, we’re going to sue you.’ So, I say to the state of Illinois, ‘We’re going to do the work. You want to sue us, go ahead. You’ve already added $4 million on top of the cost and this is really your idea of turning around the state of Illinois? It’s leading to a dead-end. It’s time that we put our people back to work. It’s time we open the doors of this 21st Century facility and prepare the people of Chicago . . . for the jobs and careers and industries that want to come here.”

City Colleges Chancellor Cheryl Hyman said she can’t understand the logic behind, what she insisted was the Rauner administration’s threat to file a lawsuit to keep a job-generating project that’s already $4 million over-budget and 18 months behind schedule in mothballs.

It makes no sense, when City Colleges is stepping up to the plate and assuming the state’s share of construction costs for the state-of-the-art facility needed to train students for an estimated 110,000 jobs over the next 10 years in the burgeoning field of transportation, distribution and logistics.

“I would hope that the state wouldn’t want to sue somebody who’s trying to save them $8 million. The rest of their investment would have been $8 million to finish this building. So, I’d like to think that, now that I’m saving them $8 million, they could find something better to do than to sue me when I’m trying to put Chicagoans back to work,” she said.

In a letter to Hyman sent Thursday, Capital Development Board Executive Director Jodi Golden explained the legal complications without specifically threatening to file a lawsuit that could shut down construction once again.

“If you intend to complete this project at your own or the city’s expense, it is unclear whether you would complete the project with the contractors and design professionals already under contract” with the Capital Development Board, Golden wrote.

“The vendors are understandably concerned about their own liability, such as extending insurance coverage on a project when it is unknown who is working on the project or what work is being done. It remains undetermined whether certain warranties will be compromised if work is completed by other vendors and these vendors may have legal claims of their own against you, the city or state. These important legal questions must be resolved to properly transition the project to your supervision.”

Yet another “legal complication” is the fact that “state appropriations” were used to complete 60 percent of the work before construction was halted eight months ago. The Capital Development Board is “required by state law to supervise construction on projects when funding is provided” by the Illinois General Assembly, Golden wrote.

“One possible solution is for you or the city to repay the state’s taxpayers for any expenditures to date,” Golden wrote.

“We welcome additional solutions but must insist on a formal resolution prior to the resumption of any construction in order to comply with state law.”

Eight months ago, the state budget stalemate halted construction on the Olive-Harvey center 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.

It happened after Gov. Bruce Rauner signed House Bill 4166, the Democratic version of a bill that 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 grew tired for a project he views as critical to his colleges-to-careers makeover of the Chicago City Colleges and took matters into his own hands.

On Thursday, construction began 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.

“We can’t afford not to,” the mayor said.

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