Request for proposals seeks site for 55,000-square-foot building

ROCKFORD — Got a building or a patch of land that could be suitable for an advanced technology center? If so, Rock Valley College wants to hear from you.

Administrators on Wednesday issued a request for proposals in hopes of attracting interest from communities and developers within the community college district, which includes all of Winnebago and Boone and parts of Stephenson, Ogle, DeKalb and McHenry counties.

The college has pledged to spend up to $9.2 million to develop the advanced technology center, wherever it is built. For years, Rock Valley leaders have massaged plans to develop an ATC, a place where students would be taught the latest manufacturing skills in an effort to strengthen the region's workforce.

The college and the city of Rockford worked on plans for more than a year to establish the tech center at Colman Village, a city-owned, 21-acre campus of idle factory buildings southwest of downtown. College trustees grew frustrated as the timeline and cost of the project grew, and pulled out of the partnership last fall.

Trustees then turned their attention to the Register Star News Tower, 99 E. State St., but a structural analysis of the building indicated it would be too costly to redevelop. For months, RVC board chairman Patrick Murphy has negotiated behind the scenes with officials at Chicago Rockford International Airport about a Kishwaukee Street site owned by the airport where the ATC could be built. Airport Director Mike Dunn said he intends to submit a bid for a land lease arrangement for the 6.7-acre airport site on Kishwaukee.

Village administrators in Machesney Park have suggested that the board establish the workforce training center at the former Machesney Park Mall adjacent to Village Hall at Illinois Highway 251 and Machesney Road. Murphy has said he has entertained offers to establish the ATC in Boone County, too.

He's also said he’s not keen on having a public dialogue to allow RVC stakeholders to talk with trustees about where an ATC would provide the maximum return on taxpayers' investment. Business and civic groups and individuals calling for such a "community conversation" include Transform Rockford, River District and former Rockford mayor Larry Morrissey.

Rock Valley seeks a 55,000-square-foot, single-story structure that can be expanded to 75,000 square feet in the future, according to the criteria released Wednesday. The building must have 18-foot ceilings with open rafters or trusses to allow for utility drops, concrete floors to accommodate heavy manufacturing equipment, and minimal columns to ensure the space remains flexible to rearrange classrooms and labs as instructional needs evolve.

The location “should be in a community or neighborhood that is safe and accessible for students and faculty,” according to the college's request for proposals.

Murphy said in October that the college's goal was to open the ATC in time for the 2020 fall term. Then, after acknowledging negotiations with airport officials earlier this year, Murphy said the ATC's debut would be pushed back to January 2021.

Now that RVC has issued a request for proposals, construction or building renovations for the ATC must be completed by August 2021.

Isaac Guerrero: iguerrero@rrstar.com; @isaac_rrs