ROCKFORD (WREX) — Rock Valley College leaders spoke publicly for the first time today after revealing to 13 WREX they would not move forward with a deal to bring an advanced technology center to the old Barber-Colman site, and will instead build it downtown at the Rockford Register Star News Tower.
13 WREX broke that news to you Thursday evening. On Friday morning, leaders including Board of Trustees Chairman Patrick Murphy and college President Doug Jensen spoke about the decision.
They said time was of the essence as the reason to back out of its development deal with the City of Rockford.
“Due to the delays in that, the board began to look at the alternate locations after construction had not begun,” Murphy said. “Knowing the needs for the middle skills training and certification in the region, we wanted to make sure we moved faster for the community.”
The college already has a small satellite office at the Register Star, but will expand its footprint from 15,000 square feet to 100,000 square feet. It will install machinery and offer more programs and curriculum as early as next fall.
Jensen says a lot of work to develop the programs the ATC would house has taken place behind the scenes over the past 2 years. The college says it will expand high-priority needs for the region, including programs like mechatronics, industrial welding, logistics and supply train.
Courses offered at the ATC will be rolled out in different phases. Some courses will start as soon as fall 2020, but other programs will be rolled out based on demand in the manufacturing industry.
Jensen says a committee will advise RVC on the mission and vision of the ATC.
At Friday’s news conference, leaders echoed the same sentiment: The ATC needs to build quickly to address the desperate need in the Rockford region to fill the skills gap.
“They are the foundational skills that many industries need to operate. It’s that shortage that’s causing many businesses to expand and grow in the ways they want to grow,” Jensen said.
Supports in the crowd at today’s news conference included Nathan Bryan, the CEO and president of the Rockford Area Economic Development Council and Lorayne Logan, the founder and president of Workplace Staffing.
However, operatives at the city and county level are speaking out against RVC’s decision to back out of the development agreement to move the ATC to Barber-Colman.
RVC and the city signed a development agreement in the fall of 2018. As part of that agreement, the ATC would move in to four of the dilapidated structures on the campus in an effort to serve the southwest side of Rockford and breathe new life into the area.
Rockford Mayor Tom McNamara said Thursday he was disappointed. And on Friday, he told 13 WREX there is no plan B for Colman Village.
“We believe whole-heartedly that the current condition of those buildings is totally unacceptable. So we will work quickly to either redevelop or look to other solutions to reduce the blight in that area.
The hangup, RVC says, would have been the timeline to open the ATC at Colman Village. Originally back in 2016, the two entities said it could open by the fall of 2018. But that timeline was pushed back to late 2020 or 2021.
McNamara says RVC is responsible for the development falling apart.
“We had weekly meetings on this project and until probably the last 6 to 8 weeks we never once heard of any hiccup from any of the partners until Rock Valley obviously has chosen to go a different course,” McNamara said.
While RVC questioned whether funding would be possible, the city maintains they never had concerns over getting tax credits and funding to build the ATC.
13 WREX is continuing to follow this story today. We will have more, in-depth coverage tonight on 13 News at 5 and 6.