As Lincoln Trail College nears the half-century mark, plans are afoot for some of the biggest changes there since the campus opened.
On Thursday, the LTC Foundation board will vote on deeding 10 acres west of the baseball diamond to the college, increasing the size of the campus by 12 percent, President Ryan Gower told the Daily News.
The parcel will be named Statesmen Park and developed into an outdoor sports complex. Groundbreaking will be Saturday, May 4.
The community event will be a "carnival," according to Gower, with food and inflatables for the children. The Statesmen baseball team will take on Southeastern Illinois College in a double-header that day.
"This is a big deal," he said.
It is also the first step toward what LTC could become during its second 50 years. Gower wants to see the college expand both physically and in its academic offerings.
On the wall of Gower's office is an aerial photo of the campus, circa 1973. "Our physical footprint has gone backwards since then," he said. "If your college isn't pushing for growth, then you're dying."
Statesmen Park will be the first land added to the main campus in decades. It will have men's and women's soccer fields, rest rooms and a concession stand.
Eventually, it will include a diamond that will allow the Lady Statesmen softball team to again play on campus. That is probably three to four years down the road, though, depending on funding.
The park will allow all LTC outdoor athletics to come together in a single location.
"We really want to have a genuine athletic complex," Gower explained. By using the new land, the complex will be able to take advantage of existing parking and other facilities.
Development of Statesmen Park is just one of two projects funded through an anonymous bequest of $680,000.
Crawford County Recreational Center
Groundbreaking on a related project is still 18 to 24 months away.
The planned Crawford County Recreational Center isn't actually an LTC project, but it is to be constructed on college property and will connect to the west side of the LTC pool.
Plans call for an approximate 33,000-square-foot building featuring multi-purpose activity rooms, treadmills and cardio equipment, free weights, an indoor track, locker rooms and more. The facility will be available 24 hours a day.
The existing pool, which is expected to be extensively renovated, is a major reason for placing the center on campus.
The anticipated cost is $5 to $5.5 million. Construction of a pool would add $1.5 to $2 million to the price.
Also, building on campus tells the county the facility belongs to all Crawford County residents, not just those in a single town.
"We want everybody in Crawford County to understand the facility is theirs," Gower explained.
"Fund raising support has been strong," Gower said, but more help is needed. "This is a big reach for Crawford County. We're going to need everybody's support to get this off the ground."
The center, he said, is a "quality of life initiative" that promotes health and wellness as well as economic development.
Athletics and fitness aren't the only areas growing at LTC.
Since the days of the college's first president, John Piland, performing arts have played a major role there. In fact, for many community residents, plays, musicals and concerts at the Zwermann Arts Center Theater have been their only connection to LTC.
"The theater is amazing," Gower said, but it has its shortcomings. There is no storage space for props, instruments, costumes or sets. Nor is there any place to build sets other than outside or on the stage itself.
That is about to change. This summer, as part of the ongoing "Theater Renaissance" project, ground will be broken on a 4,000-square-foot production center that will be connected to the south side of the theater. It will offer storage as well as room for Steve Jenkin and his building trades class students from Robinson High School to create sets.
The estimated $475,000 addition is being paid for through private funds and donations are still being accepted.
Gower hopes the center will be a distinctive addition to LTC.
"We really want something that, when people look at it, they'll say 'that's a place where the arts live,'" Gower said.
LTC and the Foundation also are working with the Regional Office of Education to provide a pre-kindergarten program on the North Campus.
The ROE 12 program, Storybrooke Preschool, moved to the campus last year. It offers four half-day classes and is looking into adding a pair of full-day classes. LTC plans to add on to the building to provide the program with more space. Primary coordinator and early childhood director Christie Butcher's vision has been "instrumental" in its success, Gower said.
"It's a good example of partnership between government entities to the benefit of both," he added.
Gower sees the growing program becoming an environment in which students interested in elementary education or early childhood development can do observations to determine if they are going into the right fields.
LTC technology center
Gower said LTC hasn't given up on the late Bev Turkal's dream of building a technology center on campus.
But, where the former LTC president envisioned computer labs, Gower sees a need for a home for career and technical programs such as process tech, welding and health careers.
LTC was built in the late 1960s when the norm was traditional classrooms with blackboards and educators giving lectures. Today, students need access to hands-on experience. A tech center would give LTC the facilities to provide that experience.
Of course, LTC is more than just "bricks and mortar." Even while facilities are being upgraded, programs are also growing and changing.
Plans call for addition of new short-term certificate programs as early as the fall semester.
Like minors at universities, the programs will offer certification in areas with broad appeal and that could support a student in his or her major. The online classes could also be used by local businesses for workforce training, Gower explained.
Planned courses include leadership, customer service, public administration, sales and marketing and philanthropy. Each will consist of six one-credit classes. Theoretically, a student could complete a course in a single semester.
LTC is also exploring the possibility of offering veterinary technology and animal sciences and classes in sustainable energy such as wind, hydro and solar.
Cooperation and growth
Gower pointed out none of the plans could come to fruition without cooperation.
"It's 100 percent a team effort," he said; Illinois Eastern Community Colleges and LTC Foundation have been supportive.
Gower said Dean of Instruction Brent Todd has lent a hand, giving him more time to work on planning and fund raising.
Community financial support also is important. While a donation of hundreds of thousands of dollars to a major university may only be a drop in the bucket, a gift such as the one helping pay for Statesmen Park can make a huge difference to a smaller institution.
"This is a special place to be and people have seen that," LTC Communications Director Chris Forde said, pointing to the campus' family atmosphere, smaller class sizes and "caring instructors who are active in making sure students are given the tools they need to succeed. "We're very fortunate to have people who are passionate about the college and what it can do for the future of its students," Forde said.
Meanwhile, LTC is Illinois' only community college to post enrollment increases in four of the last five semesters. "That's the big story," Gower said. "More and more kids are coming out here and their lives are being changed."