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Emanuel: New Malcolm X College will put City Colleges ‘back on the playing field'

City Colleges plans for building a new, $251 million Malcolm X College and Parking garage on the parking lot of the existing building. Part of the Mayor's "Colleges to Careers" plan to convert Malcolm X into a college that prepares students for careers in health care. Provided Photo

Chicago will build a new $251 million Malcolm X College and 1,500-space parking garage in the shadows of the United Center to create a state-of-the-art facility to train students for careers in health care, Mayor Rahm Emanuel disclosed Tuesday.

“For too long, the City Colleges have been off on the sidelines. I want to put ‘em back on the playing field,” the mayor said.

The massive City Colleges system is in the midst of a makeover to prepare students for jobs in growth industries. Malcolm X will focus on health care. Olive-Harvey will train students for careers in transportation and logistics. Other colleges will focus on information technology, hospitality, high-tech manufacturing and business.

Companies that specialize in those areas will help write the curriculum, teach and mentor students and, hopefully, place them in jobs when they graduate.

Construction of the new Malcolm X–in the parking lot of the old college at Jackson and Damen – will be a temporary boon to the construction industry and a long-term boost for Emanuel’s “Colleges-to-Careers” plan.

The new, $251 million college – including a pair of three-story academic buildings with an atrium connection to a 1,500-space parking garage – is expected to open in the spring of 2015.

It’s part of a five-year, $479 million capital plan that includes lesser upgrades to Harold Washington, Daley, Olive-Harvey, Wright and Truman Colleges.

The massive project is expected to create up to 2,000 construction jobs at Malcolm X alone. The overall five-year plan will be bankrolled by: $274 million in bonds; $120 million in capital reserves; $77 million from operations and $8 million in fund generated by the surrounding tax-increment-financing (TIF) district.

At a news conference at the old Malcolm X building that may or may not be torn down, Emanuel noted that 84,000 Chicago area jobs will be created in the health care industry over the next eight years.

“I cannot allow the kids from our City Colleges to not have a chance at those 84,000 jobs in health care when people from outside the city come here to fill those jobs. I’m excited that they come here. But I want to make sure the kids of Chicago have a chance at those careers,” the mayor said.

Newly-appointed City Colleges Board Chair Paula Wolff said she takes City Colleges officials at their word that it’s more expensive to retrofit the existing college than to build a new one.

“The field is changing so quickly. You need a place that’s got the physical flexibility to train students on the most current technology – whether it’s robotic surgery or new kinds of oncology treatment – or you’re handing them a phony diploma,” Wolff said.

“If you’re working with state-of-the-art equipment in a state-of-the-art facility, you can walk into any health care facility in the Chicago area and probably in the world and be a very marketable commodity.”

The new, 1,500-space Malcolm X garage will someday be available to United Center patrons. But first, Bulls and Black Hawks fans who use the surface lots around Malcolm X will face some temporary disruption during construction.

“We’ve been in communication with them. They know of our plan. It will impact some aspects. But once the construction is done, it will also be able to deal with that and be of service, as it has in the past, for the games at United” Center, the mayor said.

Former Mayor Richard M. Daley built a new, $254 million Kennedy-King College and dreamed of duplicating the showcase campus at all seven City Colleges.

The 40-acre campus includes six buildings positioned around a classic quadrangle. The library, bookstore, restaurant, athletic facilities and day care center are open to the public.

The new 500,000-square-foot Malcolm X will be a far cry from that campus atmosphere. But, it’s strategically located near the Illinois Medical District, Rush University Medical Center and Stroger Hospital. Rush already holds an annual job fair at Malcolm X and its faculty also serve as guest lecturers. The newly-expanded hospital has also donated equipment to modernize Malcolm X classrooms.