Senator wants West Side CSU campus open in two years

  • By Peter Sachs
  • Staff Writer
  • June 05, 2009 @ 12:00 PM

Three state senators want a new Chicago State University campus built on the West Side, and have lined up $40 million in state funding to get the project started.

There’s no firm timeline yet or even a location for the school, Sen. Rickey Hendon (D-5) says, though he envisions it could open within the next two years.

“I think there’s a demand because some of the young people from this area can’t make it to (CSU’s campus on) 95th without a lot of hardship,” Hendon says. “So I see the university drawing from not just the West Side, but Oak Park, the near north, the western suburbs. I believe it has great potential.”

The funding for the project was news to officials at CSU’s existing campus, at East 95th Street and South King Drive.

“The has been in the works for a while, but no one was aware that it had progressed to that point,” says CSU spokeswoman Patricia Arnold.

The $40 million for a new CSU campus is part of more than $500 million worth of pork projects that are part of a capital spending bill the state legislature sent to Gov. Pat Quinn this week. Hendon, along with senators. Don Harmon (D-39) and Kimerly Lightford (D-4), pushed to have the CSU money included, Hendon says.

Since Quinn has not signed the bill and has said he won’t do so until the state budget is balanced, the money for CSU is not assured.

“Now we have $40 million,” Hendon says. “I think we could do even better next year, get some more money for the campus.”

But he hedged on saying exactly how much more money he wants to raise for the campus. And he declined to say what locations are being considered, though he says his office has been talking with some West Side aldermen, who are “all vying to get the campus in their ward.”

Laurie Walter, the president of the faculty union at CSU’s South Side campus, says the project could divert focus and funds from the original CSU. 

A state audit recently revealed widespread accounting problems at CSU, and the school's six-year graduation rate was just 16 percent.

“I think it's a pity that such a substantial amount of money can't be spent on the pressing needs of the 95th Street campus,” Walter wrote in an e-mail.

The capital construction bill also has more than $54 million set aside for community colleges statewide, including $10 million for the City Colleges of Chicago.

The bill sets aside $5 million for improvements to Wright College’s Humboldt Park Vocational Education Center, and another $5 million for Truman College in Uptown.

City Colleges officials could not immediately say who had requested the money or specifically what it would be used for; Chancellor Wayne Watson could not be reached. In the past, Watson has highlighted his ability to lobby state legislators for more City Colleges funding.

Ellen Andres, the chief financial officer of the Illinois Community College Board, says the money can only be used for large projects that would otherwise be paid for with bonds.

“At this point, we wait until the bill actually passes before we have them put together a proposal for the use of the funds,” Andres says. “That way we’re not spinning our wheels.”

 

Daily News Staff Writer Peter Sachs covers higher education. He can be reached at 773.362.5002, ext. 18, or peter [at] chitowndailynews [dot] org.

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