With the doors to its latest expansion project open only since early September, Western Illinois University-Quad-Cities got a financial push Friday to begin a third phase of construction on its Moline riverfront campus.
Standing in the sunshine, with the Mississippi River as a scenic backdrop, Gov. Pat Quinn announced a $5 million investment from the Illinois Jobs Now! capital construction program to begin the design work for a new building that will house the university's science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, programs.
"We know jobs follow the brainpower," Quinn told a crowd of more than 100 people gathered outside WIU-QC's first building. "We have to have an excellent four-year university. It is so important each side of the river has an opportunity to send students to a great university."
Quinn said Phase 3 will include the construction of an approximately 85,000-square-foot academic building that will house classrooms, general education laboratories, specialized high-bay laboratories, offices, student resources and service and support space. The total estimated project cost is $34.6 million.
Like the previous buildings, the new building will be "designed for the 21st century" with sustainable design, construction and operation, he said.
Joe Rives, vice president of WIU's Quad-Cities campus and planning, said that with the $5 million investment, the campus can take the initial steps on Phase 3.
"This will allow us to take the preliminary design and translate it into blueprints," he said.
Although the final plans could change, Rives said Phase 3 now calls for a six-story building to sit between the campus' original building and the latest expansion. Holabird & Root, the Chicago architectural firm that designed the previous two phases, will design the new expansion. The design work could take a year to complete.
The campus' expansion, he said, "has become a reality faster than anyone expected."
According to Rives, enrollment continues to outpace projections. This fall, the riverfront campus had 1,523 students enrolled.
"This (Phase 3) will bring capacity to 3,000, and some say 'even more than that,'" Rives said.
The new building will house WIU's new engineering program.
"I know John Deere wants as many engineers as possible," Quinn said.
The latest phase comes on the heels of the campus' new $42 million Phase 2 expansion, which included three interconnected buildings situated around a traditional quad. It houses academic programs in the colleges of arts and sciences, education and human services and fine arts and communication. The campus' Phase 1 — the $18.4 million Riverfront Hall building — opened in January 2012. Each phase received funding from the state capital program.
WIU President Jack Thomas called it "another great day for Western Illinois University" as he thanked Quinn and the area's legislators for their ongoing support. But he could not let the opportunity go by without reminding the governor that "in the future, we look forward for funds for a new science building on the Macomb campus. Sorry, Governor ...," he said to the laughs of supporters.
"This dedication to higher education means a better and brighter tomorrow to so many individuals," Thomas said to a crowd of community leaders, elected officials, tradespeople and WIU students.
The students, who flanked the speakers, were wearing shirts in WIU's signature purple color.
Quinn, who sported a purple tie himself, said that providing affordable education is very important today as student loan debt becomes "the No. 1 source of indebtedness" in the nation.
The launch of Phase 3 was hailed by many for the economic benefits. Several of the region's trades unions were represented at the announcement.
Rory Washburn, co-chair of the Tri-City Building Trades Council, estimated that the campus' construction has generated thousands of construction jobs since it first began.
"This corridor is now one of the most significant stretches of road in the Quad-Cities," he said.
According to state Sen. Mike Jacobs, D-East Moline, the expansion will continue to draw more and more young people to the Quad-Cities.
"This is going to go a long way to move our community forward ... We're going to grow in ways I don't think our community understands yet," he said.
When Phase 3 is completed, the campus will span a 20-acre parcel that had housed the John Deere Technical Center and was donated by Deere & Co. The first building on WIU's campus was created by renovating and expanding the technical center.
Moline Mayor Scott Raes said the campus' additional growth also will drive private development in the area at a more rapid pace than initially expected, including market-rate housing and a grocery or drug store. He added that inquiries from developers have increased since Phase 2.
State Rep. Pat Verschoore, D-Milan, added that the expansion is not only important for the construction jobs it will create, "but because it provides for stronger employment opportunities to the entire Quad-Cities now and into the future."
"I'm always glad when the governor comes to town because he always brings his checkbook," he said.