With state funding secured, the new Community Center for Teaching and Learning is on track to open in Austin, next to the City Colleges of Chicago’s West Side Learning Center.

The new facility will provide additional meeting areas for learning center students and Austin area residents and organizations. This is part of the larger effort to expand Malcolm X College’s satellite campus and do more to support the surrounding community. Design and engineering work will kick off later this fall, with the goal of starting construction in fall 2024 and finishing construction by early 2026. The current facility is on Madison Street just east of Cicero Avenue.

Earlier this summer, the $9.5 million project got $5 million in state funding to help make the project a reality – a bill sponsored by local State Rep. La Shawn Ford (8th). He joined other West Side elected officials and city college officials on Aug. 29 to mark the milestone. They all described it as a much-needed investment in the community and its students.

West Side Learning Center offers nursing and health science certifications, as well as various Associate’s Degree programs and adult education. The construction will be handled by the Public Building Commission of Chicago (PBC), the agency that oversees construction and renovation of the city’s municipal buildings.

Barbara Meschino, West Side Learning Center dean, said the community center will have “versatile meeting spaces” and will offer “ample room for clubs, study groups and various student organizations,” freeing up space for classrooms in the current building. The college expects to increase student capacity by 50%, adding “more than 2,000 students.”

The rendering of the new Community Center for Teaching and Learning, which will expand Malcolm X College’s West Side Learning Center | Credit: City Colleges of Chicago

According to the project fact sheet, Austin area residents, business and community organizations will be able to rent out space in the center.

“This space will serve as a bridge, fostering stronger ties between our students and the surrounding communities,’ Meschino said.

The project set the goal of having at least 26% of its contractors be minority-owned businesses and at least 6% be women-owned businesses. PBC spokesperson Bryant Payne said the more general hiring goals haven’t been set yet.

Over the years, whenever West Side projects have been announced, residents, local business owners and community activists expressed concerns about whether the developer would be hiring locally. Payne said that, while the local hiring goal hasn’t been set, PBC usually sets targets for local hiring. For the agency’s purposes, “local” usually means the community area and its immediate environs.

“The PBC defines the community area, usually the neighborhood and immediate surroundings areas, where a percentage of the total hours worked on a project must be worked by residents of that community area,” he said.

During the Aug. 26 event, Dr. David Sanders, Malcolm X College president, described the project as not only an investment in the students, but an investment in the West Side. He credited Ford with securing the state funding to make it possible.

“This young man is the architect of moving this forward, getting in the legislation to support it and getting this across the line,” Sanders said.

U.S. Rep. Danny Davis (D-7) said that, as someone who has been deeply invested in Malcolm X since it got its current name in 1969, he looked forward to the next step in its growth.

Ford praised Sanders and City Colleges Chancellor Salgado for their tenacity and said that the new community center will recoup its investment because the students will go on to have careers and pay taxes.

“As your representative, I look forward to [you being] able to pay taxes,” he told the nursing students. “Make a lot of money, make as much overtime as possible, so that we can take more money from your checks.”

Igor Studenkov is a winner of multiple Illinois Press Association awards for local government and business reporting. He has been contributing to Austin Weekly News since 2015. His work has also appeared...