Two suburban community colleges are branching out to Hanover Park with a new facility aimed at confronting unemployment.
Harper College and Elgin Community College hope to launch the Education and Work Center in an aging strip mall this summer, with classes starting in the fall.
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Although officials first announced the partnership last May, the village and administrators have finally reached a deal on the terms of a lease for a 10,000-square-foot space in Hanover Square. Putting Harper and ECC classes under one roof -- a novel concept, officials say -- also required the backing of the Illinois Community College Board.
Both schools are pooling their resources to bring new services to a diverse area where officials have tried to battle lower job growth than surrounding suburbs.
Hanover Park Mayor Rodney Craig said the center also brings new "opportunities for first-generation families," a significant group in the village.
"Now what happens is new folks get to learn about the education process," said Craig, who called a 2010 summit of local leaders and businesses on the issue. "You don't know where to go. You're confused. We've got a place now that you can walk to that's Harper College or ECC."
Hanover Park's unemployment rate stood at 9.1 percent in December, compared with 8.6 percent across the metropolitan area, according to state labor statistics.
Hoping to bring those numbers down, officials also have tapped the Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership to fund job counseling at the site along Barrington Road. Business and Career Services Inc. will manage those resources under Illinois workNet, whose closest office to Hanover Park is more than a dozen miles away in Arlington Heights.
Both Harper and ECC will contribute $250,000 annually for three years for operations, including the $120,000 lease. Harper faculty will teach classes during the day, with ECC providing night courses.
"One of our goals for a student walking in the doors is that, for them, they experience no difference," said Peggy Heinrich, ECC's dean of adult education.
The curriculum will run the gamut of free adult education courses, including G.E.D. classes delivered in both English and Spanish, Heinrich said. ECC hopes to attract 250 students alone for the evening courses.
Both schools will jointly hire staff to operate the center day to day and help students who have earned the G.E.D. to transition to college-level classes at either Harper or ECC.
The ECC board of trustees is expected to vote on the terms of the three-year lease March 11. The Harper board will vote on the agreement April 16.
The deal brings new life to the vacancy-riddled Hanover Square. The village is searching for a buyer to redevelop the shopping center after spending $2.8 million in 2011 to purchase the property. Since then, Hanover Park has upgraded the mall's roof and utilities and demolished an old restaurant.
The village will pay for the costs of renovating an empty storefront to make way for five classrooms.
The shopping center sits along a Pace bus route, at the intersection of the two community college districts. For Harper, Hanover Park gives students a more central location on the school district's western edge.
"We're hoping that the data proves us right that we're making a great investment in the community," said Kenya Ayers, dean of academic enrichment and engagement.
State Rep. Fred Crespo helped secure a $200,000 state grant to get the project off the ground. The Hoffman Estates Democrat praised the unprecedented partnership for Illinois community colleges.