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Mayoral troubleshooter to lead Olive-Harvey College

Felicia Davis is acting president of Olive-Harvey College. | Sun-Times file photo

An all-purpose mayoral troubleshooter who once ran the Public Building Commission has been chosen as the president of Olive-Harvey College, in part to help jump-start the twice-stalled construction of a $45 million transportation, distribution and logistics center.

Felicia Davis is one of two interim presidents chosen by newly-appointed City Colleges Chancellor Juan Salgado in his first official day on the job.

Shawn Jackson, chief officer of leadership and learning at the Chicago Public Schools, is the interim president at Truman College.

Salgado’s selection of Davis was made with construction in mind.

In 2012, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced plans to build the training center at Olive-Harvey to prepare students for 28,000 jobs in the fields of transportation, distribution and logistics over the next decade.

The 200,000-square-foot building was supposed to replace 112,000 square feet of temporary classroom space adjacent to the main Olive-Harvey building at 10001 S. Woodlawn and be completed two years ago. The plan was to bankroll it with $31.6 million from the state and $10.6 million built into the five-year, $479 million capital plan at City Colleges.

Instead, the marquee project has twice fallen victim to the marathon state budget stalemate.

Last year, Emanuel restarted the project and dared his old friend, Gov. Bruce Rauner, to follow through on a threat to sue City Colleges to stop it.

A few months later, the state reversed field and told contractors to re-start work. But, the reprieve was short-lived. Work was stopped again as construction costs ballooned.

On Monday, Salgado called Davis an “uncanny” fit and the perfect choice to solve the construction dilemma as well as educational issues at the Far South Side college.

She is the former Chicago Police officer-turned-all-purpose mayoral troubleshooter who has served Emanuel as deputy chief-of-staff, point person on public safety issues, executive director of the Mayor’s Office of Public Engagement and buildings commissioner.

She spent 20 months running the Emanuel-chaired Public Building Commission that rides herd over construction of schools, libraries, Park District facilities, police and fire stations.

Prior to joining the Emanuel administration, Davis spent 10 years as a Kendall College administrator, rising to vice-president of operations and student administration. She grew up in nearby Altgeld Gardens. Her mother graduated from Olive-Harvey.

“There’s a variety of reasons, including her construction background, why Felicia was the perfect, perfect fit. There is no better choice for Olive-Harvey than Felicia Davis. If she’s been doing public service waiting for her true calling, this is it,” Salgado said Monday.

“She and I, working together, can work to catalyze, what is a critical construction project for our regional economy and certainly for the family economy of people who could be going through a training that we would like to offer at that new TDL center.”

Salgado was asked what needs to be done to get the twice-stalled construction project moving again.

“We’ve got to spend some time in Springfield. We’ve got to galvanize our local community, but also galvanize our employer community. This is not a Republican or Democrat-type issue. This is about how you grow your local economy and your regional economy,” he said.

“We’re gonna go out and make the case for support. This is a very high-priority item for City Colleges as it relates to Springfield. And I’m confident that we’ll be able to unlock this.”

Also on Monday, Salgado announced plans to establish “teams focused on enhancing the student experience and bolstering student enrollment as well as strategic outreach to addressed the funding crisis” at City Colleges.

He charged that City Colleges has been “shortchanged by $70 million over the last two years” by the state’s failure to “fund student MAP grants this year after significantly delaying them last year.”

MAP grants are yet another casualty of the marathon state budget stalemate.

Both interim college presidents will serve until searches can be conducted for permanent replacements. But, if Davis and Jackson perform as well as Salgado believes they will in their on-the-job-auditions, both will have a good chance of staying put.