JJC’s rise and fall
By Bob Okon email@example.com July 8, 2013 6:58PM
Updated: August 10, 2013 6:35AM
The new downtown Joliet Junior College building is taking shape, but there is still no progress on getting the $25.5 million in state funds that were supposed to help pay for it.
Steel beams started going up June 21, giving structure to the six-story, $58 million project viewed as a key development for the future of downtown Joliet as well as the college. The walls could be up by October.
But with the state still mired in financial problems, JJC does not appear to be getting any closer to the grant that would help pay for finishing the building’s interior.
It has not been for lack of trying on behalf of the college, JJC spokeswoman Kelly Rohder said Monday.
“That’s been one of our priorities this year — whenever we talk with a legislator that covers the community college district,” Rohder said Monday. “They’re really aware of our interest in a new capital bill.”
Rohder said college officials “always maintain hope” that the money will come through. JJC is at the head of a list of community college projects to be funded if the state releases the money. But JJC also is prepared to look at a Plan B to finish the building.
At a January ceremony for the building, JJC President Debra Daniels noted that the college has savings that could be used for the downtown campus.
That is one of what Rohder called “alternative funding strategies” that would be considered if hope runs out on the state money. Discussing other possibilities now, she said, “is a little too premature.”
What is apparent at the construction site is that the building is progressing on schedule.
Three floors of steel beams and girders have been erected since June 21 on the west half of the building. All six floors on both halves should be up by Aug. 16, said Kyle Miller, superintendent at the site for general contractor Mortenson Construction.
“The project was always supposed to be a nine-month project,” Miller said, and nothing has thrown it off schedule yet.
If it stays on schedule, the walls will be up by the end of September, followed by final exterior work, like window installation, to be completed by the end of this year.
Once that’s done, JJC officials will either have the state money or have to start taking a harder look at what to do next.
The downtown building will house culinary arts, hospitality and other classes. The plan calls for a JJC restaurant on the first floor that would showcase the talents of JJC’s culinary arts students while also giving them practical experience.
Joliet officials and downtown business people look forward to the arrival of hundreds of students downtown, hoping they will have some money to spend and some time to walk around so as to inject new vitality into the area.
Daniels said in January that students will be in the building in two or three years. Whether it’s sooner or later may depend on how soon money is made available to finish the inside of the building.
The college’s capacity to finish the downtown building was evident last month when a new $45 million proposal was laid out for a new multipurpose building on the main campus and expansion of the Romeoville campus. Funding for those projects would come from an increase in the capital assessment fee charged to students. The fee hike would not be used to finish the downtown building, Rohder said.
While college officials have repeatedly said they have the resources to finish the downtown building, they have persistently tried to wrap up the $25.5 million state grant that once seemed to be within reach. As Rohder said, “That’s a lot of money to walk away from.”