Though announced three years ago after receiving a multimillion dollar state grant to build a West Side campus, Chicago State University has yet to release specific details about the project but insists plans are underway.
In 2009, the South Side university received a $40 million state grant spearheaded by then-state Sen. Rickey Hendon (5th) and current Sen. Kimberly Lightford (4th). Chicago State is seeking proposals from qualified firms for a “market validation and financial feasibility study” for the West Side campus.
The proposals will help the school determine the best location for the campus and which courses and programs are in demand on the West Side. Sabrina Land, director of marketing and community relations for Chicago State, said the school is expected to approve a site and release details about course offerings by fall 2013.
The preferred boundaries for the location include Roosevelt Road to the south, North Avenue to the north, Western Avenue on the east and Austin Avenue on the west. The university is looking at the Austin, Lawndale and Garfield Park neighborhoods.
State Rep. LaShawn Ford (8th), an advocate for the West Side campus, would like to see the campus used as an urban, behavioral health school.
“If Chicago State really wanted to come in and deal with urban issues, they could really take charge of some of the social ills on the West Side,” he said.
If any university was going to tackle the West Side, “no one could do it better than Chicago State University,” Ford said.
“They have a great psychology program and legal department,” he added. “In Austin, we have a lot of people with backgrounds who need to learn how to get their backgrounds expunged and understand the law.”
Ford said Chicago State and neighborhood nonprofits could work together to build a stronger community. Land, an Austin native, said it’s important for the university to work with West Side public schools and local organizations to inform the community that there is another option for public education.
Having a campus on the West Side will make that job easier, she said.
“Once we are on the West Side, we’ll get a lot more West Side residents interested in Chicago State,” Land said.
The $40 million state grant, however, was not without controversy. It was part of a public works program signed into law by Gov. Pat Quinn.
After its approval, the Chicago Tribune reported that Frank Pogue, Chicago State’s then-interim president, was not informed on the extension campus, and that it was the idea of legislators, not educators.
But that’s not a concern anymore, said one West Side community advocate.
Melissa Williams, criminal justice committee chair for the Westside Branch NAACP, was appointed by Ford to sit on the school’s site selection subcommittee to help oversee the project.
Others on the subcommittee include Lightford, Ford, community stakeholders and representatives from the university. Williams insists there hasn’t been any pushback for the project now that it’s moving forward and there’s available funding.
“Folks from West Side and at Chicago State are working together to make this thing happen,” she said.
Land said it’s not clear how much, if any, of the state grant has been doled out to the school.
Lightford, who Land said is one of the key legislators “out there trying to push to get us the resource we need to build the campus,” was unavailable for comment. Former Sen. Hendon, who resigned from his seat in February of 2011, could not be located for comment. Once it’s built, Williams said the West Side campus is a chance for students in the area to go to “a real four-year school,” and it’s also an “economical” option for them.
“Chicago State will give them a chance for a real higher education, and it’s in our neighborhood.”
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