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updated: 5/9/2014 11:06 AM

Harper College renovating Prospect Heights branch

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  • Video: Harper Changes in Prospect Hts

  • Harper College Dean Kenya Ayers, right, oversees a project to overhaul the Northeast Center in Prospect Heights. Jennifer Brennan, left is the center's new supervisor.

       Harper College Dean Kenya Ayers, right, oversees a project to overhaul the Northeast Center in Prospect Heights. Jennifer Brennan, left is the center's new supervisor.
    George LeClaire | Staff Photographer

  • Jane Weller teaches a class at Northeast Center for students in Harper's certified nursing assistant program.

       Jane Weller teaches a class at Northeast Center for students in Harper's certified nursing assistant program.
    George LeClaire | Staff Photographer

  • Devin Chambers helps students who have earned their GED transition into college-level courses.

       Devin Chambers helps students who have earned their GED transition into college-level courses.
    George LeClaire | Staff Photographer

  • Jane Weller uses a lab inside the Northeast Center to test the skills of nursing assistant students.

       Jane Weller uses a lab inside the Northeast Center to test the skills of nursing assistant students.
    George LeClaire | Staff Photographer

  • Harper will rename the facility on Wolf Road the Learning and Career Center.

       Harper will rename the facility on Wolf Road the Learning and Career Center.
    George LeClaire | Staff Photographer

 
 

To get a sense of the disconnect between its Prospect Heights branch and the needs of the suburb, Harper College points to the name of the Northeast Center.

For passers-by, it's unclear what services and classes are available in the 50,000-square-foot building, tucked between apartments and industrial facilities on Wolf Road.

But the name also conveys a remoteness from the community college's main Palatine campus.

Hoping to grow its reach in an area with a unique set of challenges, Harper will overhaul the Northeast Center, starting with the name. Beginning July 1, the former elementary school will become the Learning and Career Center.

The changes come after an analysis of Prospect Heights and Wheeling, as well as talks with nearly 70 community and business leaders.

"We found that there was a mismatch between what we were offering here and what the community needed," said Kenya Ayers, Harper's dean of academic enrichment and engagement.

The center will debut programs aimed at curbing unemployment and addressing barriers to higher education and higher-paying jobs. The shift, officials say, responds to figures raised by the study of Prospect Heights and Wheeling:

• 16,000 residents started college but did not earn a degree.

• 28,000 do not speak English.

• 5,000 have not finished high school.

Harper continues to reach out to businesses to bring job fairs to the center and to Pace to improve public transportation in Prospect Heights, known as the "city without sidewalks," the dean said.

In the fall, the center will house seven new skill certificate programs in fields with promising job opportunities, including phlebotomy and computer-based manufacturing.

The branch already provides on-site child care for eligible parents and counseling for students who have earned their GED and plan to transition to college-level courses. There are also computer labs and a library.

Harper acquired the property in the 1990s. As demand for the center's basic computer training slowed, "the building became not very focused," Harper President Ken Ender said.

Now, a long-awaited facelift will help improve the center's access and visibility, officials say. Although design plans are still in the works, the first phase of the project will cost an estimated $900,000. Harper will move the center's entrance slightly north and build a new lobby area staffed by a bilingual receptionist to better serve visitors.

"We also believe there is an untapped potential of students who can come from right here in the immediate area, and we want students to be aware that this is a place for them," Ayers said.

In the second phase next spring, workers will renovate classrooms. Harper will invest in the site at the same time as it is launching the Education and Work Center with Elgin Community College, a new branch in Hanover Park.

"I think it speaks volumes about Harper and its commitment to the community," Ayers said. "It says a lot about who we are."

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