El-Centro to Move to New Facility

Sean E. Dotson, Staff Writer

The official artist’s architectural rendition for the proposed El Centro project


The El-Centro campus will move to a brand new building in 2013, according to Maria Luna-Duarte, Interim Director of El-Centro, and Dana Navarro, Director of Public Relations for NEIU. The campus will move from the current leased location at 3119 North Pulaski Ave. to land purchased by NEIU near the intersection of Avondale Ave. and Drake Ave.
The El-Centro campus provides services for just over a thousand students each semester, according to Luna-Duarte. “We definitely needed more space. It just so happened our lease was expiring and this was a perfect opportunity.” The current lease on the property, owned by the not-for-profit ASPIRA Association, expired on June 30, 2012, though it was extended for one year with an option to extend an additional year.
According to a report from NEIU President Sharon Hahs to the Board of Trustees (BoT), the current El-Centro location is limiting the University’s ability to serve NEIU students. In April 2011, the University initiated the search for a new location, one with “adequate space to meet the growing student demand; increased classroom, computer, and student support space; adequate parking for students, faculty and staff; and improved access to El Centro for those using public transportation,” President Hahs wrote in her report.
The University purchased the land for $11.5 million after fielding proposals from four potential sites. “This is super exciting for us.  This new location is going to offer a lot of visibility for the campus,” said Navarro. “Anybody who drives down the Kennedy expressway is going to see our new building.  It’s going to be big, and it’s going to be flashy.”
The facility itself, with an estimated cost of $15 million, will be three floors, and include 17 general purpose classrooms, 3 seminar rooms, an art/music specialty space, a small multi-use auditorium, open and closed office spaces, one student computer lab, a learning resource center, a community-focused meeting space, a lounge, and a welcoming lobby.  All teaching spaces will have digital projection capabilities, and there will be building-wide wireless Internet.
“The building is going to be state-of-the-art, and it’s going to be eco-friendly,” Luna-Duarte said, indicating that the new campus will be certified as a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, building. LEED is a national third-party certification program developed by the U.S. Green Building Council.
One of the University’s primary goals, according to Navarro, is to create more space for classes.  Students, she said, are sometimes unable to register for courses they need because the space to hold classes does not exist. “We are busting at the seams here.  With this new El-Centro campus, we’re going to be able to offer a lot more classes.  We’re hoping to be able to offer classes students are really going to need in order to graduate, in the time frame that they need.”
The BoT authorized $28.5 million for the entire project.  Reports estimate the cost of land, demolition, and construction at $27 million. The University will pay for the project through University debt with potential support from tax increment financing funds.
The project has not been without troubles. The existing El-Centro campus leased its facility from ASPIRA for $220,999 per year. The one-year extension currently in place costs $228,000, and will go up to $236,700 should the University seek another extension.
The University does not anticipate any interruption in service during the moving process.  When asked for a firm date on which the new campus will open, Navarro couldn’t confirm one. The university initially wanted to open by Fall 2013, however, that date has since been pushed back.  “You have to get approval from this office; then you have to get approval from another office, and then another office.  Some of those approvals took longer than we initially anticipated, so that has pushed back the date for when we can break ground to start construction,” said Luna-Duarte.
“We were approved for the zoning, but there’s still one more process that needs to be completed before we can actually break ground. Everything has to be in place,” said Luna Duarte, “But of course we’ll make a big deal about it and you guys will definitely know when we’re at that point.”