Rock Valley College, City of Rockford Partnership Could Revitalize Barber-Colman

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A south Rockford eyesore may soon be reborn, as a place to train people with the skills to get in-demand jobs.  But, there’s a price and the investment is in the millions.

The Barber-Colman property, for many, is just several crumbling, empty buildings surrounded by a fence.  But, that could change if a partnership between the city and Rock Valley College moves forward.

The plan is to convert a couple of buildings on the Colman campus into the Rock Valley College Training Center.  The city has already spent more than $17,000 on getting plans together for the project.  The total price tag is closer to $32 million.

“When we looked at it, we felt like the Barber-Colman campus, with its easy access to transportation, being on a bus route, and being in a highly populated area that has lower educational attainment, we thought it was a perfect fit,” said City Administrator Jim Ryan.

Here’s the breakdown:

  • Roughly 67% would come from state and federal grants
  • Site qualifies for its historic status
  • Rockford would be responsible for $5.5 million, but much of that could be covered grants.  If so, it reduces the city’s cost to roughly $1 million – $2 million, which is about the same expense to demolish the buildings.

“This is 22 acres that is producing zero dollars in property taxes,” said Ryan.  “By having a catalyst and partnership like RVC, where we can co-locate other private sector development, that will complement what they’re doing down there.”

That leaves roughly $8.6 million for RVC to come up with, which is tough to justify with the school’s recent public financial struggles.  It has gone through layoffs, program reductions, and the state of Illinois shorting the school several million dollars.

“It’s a legitimate concern,” said Mike Dunn, an RVC Trustee.  “What often gets lost is what capital money we have and a lot of it comes from the state of Illinois.  That capital money can’t be put towards year to year or day to day operations.”

Programs at RVC’s Samuelson Road Center, which would move to Barber Colman, are in such demand that they have long waiting lists.  To expand the building to accommodate upgrading those programs could cost anywhere from $18 million to $20 million.  On top of that, running Samuelson is a $500,000 hit to the operations budget every year.  This project could cost a fraction of that annually.

“You’re saving money because you’re reducing your footprint,” said RVC President Mike Mastroianni.  “You’re saving money because you are reducing your cost that you have to pay when you own a property versus leasing a property.

The next step is for all the parties involved: the city of Rockford, Rock Valley College, and the Rockford Local Development Corp. to agree on a development deal.  A deal could happen late this summer or early fall.

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