ECC planning $55M manufacturing center to train employees of the future as job demands increase – Chicago Tribune

The Elgin Community College Board has signed off on the architecture, engineering and construction management contracts needed for a $55 million manufacturing center to be built on its McLean Boulevard campus in Elgin.

Housed in the new building will be the school’s programs for heating, air conditioning, ventilation and refrigeration (HVAC-R); energy management; industrial maintenance; mechatronics; and CNC (computer numerical control), said Cathy Taylor, dean of sustainability, business & career technologies.

It will also allow ECC to add new pipe welding and quality technician programs, Taylor said.

DLA Architects of Itasca will be be paid up to $3,075,500 for the design and engineering work and Elgin-based Lamp will oversee construction for a fee of about $2.5 million, said Kim Wagner, ECC’s vice president of business and finance.

“We hope to be able to complete the design phase and begin construction as soon as possible. Bringing the manufacturing center to fruition is a priority that we are excited to move forward,” Wagner said.

The center will be built at the northwest corner of Spartan Drive and McLean Boulevard, near the school’s main entrance, on land where the Colonial Cafe once stood. ECC purchased the 600 S. McLean Blvd. restaurant property in 2020 for $937,500, Wagner said.

About $28 million of the building’s cost will be funded with money from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity. The rest will be covered by the college, Wagner said.

With the contracts in place, the next steps will be signing off on the design and finalizing contracts with approved vendors, she said.

The college recognized the need for the new building in 2018 when they started having student waitlists for some of their manufacturing programs, currently housed in Building O on the main campus, Taylor said.

“The need for space was further exacerbated when local employers offered donations to the college to educate and train students and workers for manufacturing related jobs and careers, but we were challenged to find space,” she said.

“We now offer foundational courses in mechatronics, but need additional equipment and space to fully offer this program. We also plan to offer maker space, 3D printing, and we are exploring curriculum design for smart fabrication as an extension of our CAD program, which will integrate with the manufacturing program.”

The maker space will be ideal for local companies that want a small place to conduct research and development, Taylor said, and the college anticipates the need to provide space for local entrepreneurs in the manufacturing sector.

ECC has agreements with several employers to provide apprenticeship training in manufacturing programs, including with Smithfield, (CNC and IT maintenance tech), Whittenstin (CNC) and Hoffer Plastics (IST/maintenance tech).

The plan is for ECC to offer short-term certificates to industry workers and adult learners looking to upskill, Taylor said. The school would also like to develop more educational pathways with school districts, she said.

Having the manufacturing center will strengthen ECC’s position in the local business community as it becomes better able to provide education and training for high-skill, in-demand jobs, she said.

“The manufacturing industry is undergoing a transformation that rivals the industrial revolution of the early 20th century,” Taylor said.

“Manufacturing has become more advanced, digital and connected, which means more than 50 percent of all future manufacturing jobs do not exist today. As a result, ECC can become a training provider for local employers who find themselves struggling to keep up with the technological advances that are driving change in the sector.”

Mike Danahey is a freelance reporter for The Courier-News.