JOLIET – Joliet Junior College’s City Center Campus saw its first student stroll through its doors for classes Monday.
It still was dark out Monday morning, but culinary student Susan Quigley came in and was greeted by college officials, including JJC President Judy Mitchell. Quigley, as one of the first 25 students to enter, was given a welcome bag of goodies.
Quigley said it was her first time inside the college’s new building in downtown Joliet.
“I’m just very excited,” she said.
Monday was the first day of classes but also the first day for a building that’s been long in development for JJC. The college had a groundbreaking ceremony on the six-story, 96,000-square-foot building at the corner of Chicago and Webster streets in 2013.
JJC spokeswoman Kelly Rohder said in an email that JJC expects 400 students using the building this semester, with room to grow in the future.
The building is the new home for the college’s culinary arts program, workforce development, and department of adult education and literacy.
The six levels include administrative offices; a restaurant; culinary arts classroom space; a ballroom and kitchen; a student lounge; classrooms and labs; a library; and a testing and tutoring area.
“It’s incredible,” said Mike McGreal, JJC culinary arts chairman. “This is literally one of the top facilities in the world.”
McGreal was with other college officials Monday, greeting the first 25 students who came to the building.
“Are you ready to see the new digs?” he asked one student.
The cost of the project was $58 million, and the college funded it through state money as well as funds received from other JJC Master Plan projects that came in under budget, a referendum in 2008 and interest earned on bonds, Rohder said.
The building was designed by Demonica Kemper Architects and construction management was by Mortensen Construction, she said.
State funding for the project still is promised at $25.5 million.
JJC received $10 million from the state in October 2014 from former Gov. Pat Quinn for the building, but those funds were frozen under Gov. Bruce Rauner, Rohder said. The college has used surplus funds to offset the cost of the project to complete it on time.
“However, with more students to serve and declining funding from the state each year, this is not a sustainable pathway,” Rohder said. “[Mitchell] and the Board of Trustees continue to work closely with our legislative partners in Springfield to ensure a capital bill is passed and that we [receive] the funding promised to us.”
The City Center Campus is one of many projects under JJC’s Master Plan, which also includes the JJC Event Center and Romeoville campus expansion, both of which are slated to be complete this year.
McGreal said culinary students previously had to use basic stoves and refrigerators, but now have energy-efficient and more up-to-date tools, such as ovens with an iPad-type interface.
New culinary students start on the fifth floor and progress to lower floors on a semesterly basis, he said.
“It’s neat. They can progress and walk past the [kitchen] as they go into the top floors. There’s kind of excitement as they move into the main kitchen on their last semester,” McGreal said.
Work still is being done with the restaurant on the first floor, and it is expected to open in mid-January.
Sitting across from City Center Campus is the Chicken-N-Spice restaurant, which is on property that college officials plan to acquire for further development.
A grand opening for the City Center Campus and neighboring Renaissance Center will be held April 11, Rohder said in an email.
Mitchell, who gave a high-five to one student who arrived, said the City Center Campus classrooms look beautiful and the students deserve such a facility.