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A Publication of WTVP

For 36 years, Illinois Central College has been proud to partner with citizens of the greater Peoria area to offer affordable, high quality educational and workforce development programs. Four out of 10 high school seniors who go to college choose ICC. We’ve been privileged to award more than 37,000 degrees and certificates and to have served more than 280,000 individuals in our community. For the past five semesters, we’ve been gratified to see enrollments grow.

Last November, ICC was offered a lease for the former Zeller Mental Health Center. The Center closed after legislative funding ended. Through leadership and efforts of Representative David Leitch, we were able to lease the facility for a $1 a year, a fact that’s been highly publicized in the media. But that’s not the full story. What’s been left out are the rest of the costs that come with ICC moving into this building.

As part of the lease agreement, ICC assumes the costs for operating the facility, which have been calculated by state officials to be $1.4 million a year. ICC also must bear the cost of all repairs to the building over the lifetime of the lease. For the first five years, these repair costs have been estimated to be $600,000 a year. Longer-term costs, including the replacement of the roof of the facility, will be more. Renovations or remodeling of the building to adapt it to ICC needs aren’t included in these figures. Finally, two state agencies will occupy the building rent-free for the term of the lease. While we’re delighted to receive the option to use this building, the real cost is certainly far above the highly touted $1 per year.

In strategic planning interviews and surveys completed in 1999 and 2001, the people of our district urged us to find a northern site and to partner with the Peoria Public Schools. The Zeller site was ideal for several reasons. It’s closest to the population we wish to serve. It could be occupied almost immediately. It’s convenient for District 150 students and other nearby high schools to use for vocational or other classes.

Like Zeller, ICC is a state entity, but with local ties. The lease assures a state resource built to serve local needs continues to have a local focus and use. State officials note the law requires buildings like Zeller to remain empty for at least three years before they can be sold. ICC’s immediate use of the building avoids three years of state expense while the building remained empty, waiting to be sold. At the same time, ICC cares for a valuable asset and makes sure the building and site don’t deteriorate or fall into disrepair. Finally, the lease avoids the need for the state to underwrite new construction for our college.

We’ve outgrown our facilities in downtown Peoria for educating and training health care and public safety professionals. Community colleges like ICC educate and train 58 percent of the registered nurses in our state. With the downturn in the economy, we’ve seen more people turn to us for workforce retraining. Because of demands like these, we must consider a northern site. New construction, which has been estimated to cost $50 million, doesn’t make sense at this time.

In spite of the broad-based community support, some legislators still question the lease. Some have gone so far as to suggest that our college’s future state funding may be jeopardized as a result of the ICC-North lease. If these legislators are successful in reducing or removing state funding, ICC would immediately have to double tuition and request a tax hike from our community to make up for the lost state revenues.

If the tax increase failed, ICC would be forced to slash programs, services, and staff. Who would lose if this happens?

The first hurt would be the nearly 12,000 students a year who look to ICC for affordable, accessible education and training. Businesses and industry would no longer have access to our many workforce training and development programs. And the community would suffer from the loss of affordable education for college students, many of whom can’t afford the costs of four-year public or private colleges.

It’s important for concerned community members to understand the value of the new ICC-North facility and how this will meet the growing education and workforce development needs of our community.

Threats against our budget are real, and we’re concerned. But we look forward to working with legislators to build on our 35-year success story of proudly serving our community. We hope with your support, we’ll be able to continue to meet your educational and workforce development needs for many years to come. IBI

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