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posted: 1/30/2010 12:01 AM

Elgin Community College, Elgin swap land, classroom space

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  • Architect drawings of plans for Fountain Square

    Architect drawings of plans for Fountain Square


Elgin Community College plans to close its downtown Elgin campus as part of the city's plan to bring a 56-unit artists' co-op and gallery to town.

In exchange for giving the 60,000-square-foot Fountain Square Campus building at 51 S. Spring St. to the city, ECC will receive 16 acres of city-owned land just south of Spartan Drive adjacent to the college's main campus, according to agreements passed by both parties this week.

"They need the land and we were able to exchange it for their downtown land they were no longer interested in," Elgin Mayor Ed Schock said Friday. "To me, it's a win-win."

Elgin city leaders approved the swap Wednesday and ECC officials, in a special meeting, signed off in a 4-0 vote on it late Friday morning.

"As we're growing we need to have land," board Chairwoman Eleanor MacKinney said. "... The fact that the city is cooperating is a wonderful thing for the city and the college."

ECC Vice President Sharon Konny said the college expects the Fountain Square Campus to remain open through at least calendar year 2010.

The downtown campus serves about 2,500 to 3,000 people enrolled in classes for English as a Second Language, General Equivalency Diplomas or work force training, and about 100 faculty members and staffers are stationed there.

ECC officials have said it could cost an estimated $20 million to renovate the building for its purposes.

Konny said administrative offices at Fountain Square would be moved to two buildings: 410 Renner Drive, which is expected to be complete by the fall; and 466 Renner Driver, which will be done by January 2011.

The new buildings will also feature 26 classrooms, five computer labs and student study areas.

College President David Sam said Friday no plans have been finalized for the college's use of the 16-acre property.

Schock said the land is part of the former Spartan Meadows Golf Course, which will not open this spring since the city completed the 18-hole Highlands of Elgin Golf Course last year.

The swap is contingent on Minneapolis-based ArtSpace, a 30-year-old group that has redeveloped old buildings and converted other structures into 24 artist communities across the country, landing federal funding by Aug. 10.

Elgin courted Artspace in 2008 during a series of public meetings and workshops with artists.

Heidi Kurtze, Artspace director of property development, said Friday the Elgin project would contain 56 loft-style apartments for artists, along with a gallery and art-related retail space.

Artspace will renovate the 60,000-square-foot, two-story Fountain Square building and erect a three-story addition atop a parking lot just south of the building, she said.

The project will cost about $8 million and Artspace plans to apply for $7 million to $7.5 million in federal housing credits by this May, Kurtze said.

A final decision is expected by this August, and if all goes according to plan the city will give the Fountain Square building and parking lot to Artspace for a 14-month construction turnaround beginning in the spring of 2011, Kurtze said.

Kurtze said Artspace is excited about the Fountain Square building because it is right in the heart of downtown.

"We're thrilled to be working in Elgin. The commitment of the community has been tremendous," Kurtze said. "It has a very impressive and quickly growing arts community."

Proponents of the Artspace plan note how artists will live and work in the community and exhibitions and galleries will bring more foot traffic to downtown - along with sales-tax revenue.

Sue Olafson, city spokeswoman, said the Fountain Square campus did not generate property tax revenue because it is owned by ECC. The new site will be taxable because it will be owned by Artspace.

"ECC has made it clear that the downtown campus is not going to be part of their future," Olafson said.

Not all city officials are excited about the project.

Councilman Richard Dunne voted against the swap, citing a lack of public discussion on the site and the city cutting services to balance its budget.

Dunne objects to the possibility that the city may sink $1.5 million from a special downtown taxing district into the project, saying it could be spent in other areas to help the downtown. He added that the city is giving ECC land that may be undervalued at $2.6 million.

"We're spending $4.1 million during an economic downturn on something I don't think is necessary," Dunne said.

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