Now that students, faculty and staff members have settled into Universal Technical Institute's newest location in Lisle, local and state elected officials are taking time to welcome the technical school to the community.
Mayor Joe Broda and others on Friday toured the 187,000-square-foot building along Warrenville Road less than week after it replaced a former campus in Glendale Heights.
UTI provides postsecondary education for students seeking careers as professional automotive, diesel, collision repair, motorcycle and marine technicians. It has 11 campuses across the country.
Campus President Julie Mueller said operations have ceased at UTI's previous Midwest campus in Glendale Heights. This week, students started attending classes in Lisle, she said.
"It was overwhelmingly emotional," Mueller said of the first day. "To see the students coming in, every student had awe on their face. They were so proud."
Student Antonio Perez of Aurora said he enjoys the new campus, which includes classrooms, a learning resource center, and automotive and diesel labs filled with cars and trucks.
"This gives it that actual college feel," said Perez, a 34-year-old Army veteran who has been attending UTI since August 2012. "Everything is state-of-the-art."
The two-story structure has enough classrooms, offices and laboratory space to accommodate up to 2,000 students and as many as 150 faculty and staff members.
Broda said the structure is "a tremendous improvement" from the vacant corporate training center that used to be on the site at 2611 Corporate West Drive.
Unlike the old building that was abandoned and falling apart, UTI's new Midwest campus is "a breath of fresh air for this area."
"You can see it from the street," he said. "You can see it from the tollway. It's an asset to the village of Lisle."
The village provided millions of dollars in tax-increment financing -- limiting the amount of property taxes that go to local governments while the remaining taxes go into redevelopment -- for construction of the campus, which is expected to generate about $50 million in direct and indirect economic benefits to Lisle and the region, officials have said.
The campus draws students from across the Midwest. Nearly half of them come from 100 miles away or more. The school has departments that help students find housing and jobs.
UTI has partnered with more than 30 companies to create curricula tailored to manufacturers' standards and equip its campuses with the latest vehicles, equipment, tools and training aids, officials said.
State Rep. Jeanne Ives of Wheaton, who joined Friday afternoon's tour along with state Sen. Michael Connelly, said she's impressed with the Lisle campus.
"It reflects the level of competency and technical ability that's required in today's manufacturing and maintenance," Ives said.
Connelly, who lives in Lisle, said he often sees data showing there are numerous job openings in the region but a shortage of qualified applicants.
"These technical schools can fill that skill gap at a reasonable cost for kids who aren't destined for a four-year college," Connelly said. "That's good for the economy. It's certainly good for the state. And it's something that needs to be encouraged more."
Opens: Lisle TIF money helped finance new campus