Renewed Education

Illinois community college’s $17M renovation includes battery storage, renewable energy programs

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“A lot of the jobs that are coming online … require stackable credentials, and Heartland provides that. Heartland is designed to be nimble and create the workforce that we need for manufacturing going forward.”

Patrick Hoban
President & CEO
Economic Development Council

For more than a decade, an Illinois community college’s wind turbine turned heads while powering the school.

A nearly completed multimillion-dollar campus renovation soon will power careers of students working on nearby wind farms – along with solar arrays, battery storage systems and advanced manufacturing jobs.

A rendering of the completed Advanced Manufacturing and Technology Center at Heartland Community College. The school received donations from multiple different organizations, including State Farm Insurance, which has its headquarters in Normal, Ill.

Heartland Community College in Normal, Illinois, is finishing a $17 million renovation to its Advanced Manufacturing and Technology Center. The 45,000-square-foot project includes the new Electric Vehicle/Energy Storage Center. Heartland received a $7.5 million grant from the state of Illinois or the project and support from a variety of organizations, including Wabash Valley Power Alliance, and local employers such as electric vehicle maker Rivian Automotive and State Farm Insurance. The project broke ground in September 2022 and will be finished in January 2024.

“The renovation came from our ongoing conversations with industry partners and with an extensive environmental analysis that we conducted in 2019,” said Steve Fast, assistant to the president for public information at Heartland Community College. “That all entered into the picture of what we ended up doing in this space.”

The discussions with local businesses also led Heartland to develop new courses for the advanced manufacturing center, including programs in robotics, HVAC systems and digital media. In 2021, the college launched programs in electric vehicle technology and high-voltage energy storage.

“It’s an interesting transition for the Bloomington-Normal area. Manufacturing is really starting to take off,” said Adam Campbell, dean of career and technical education for Heartland Community College. “It’s very high skilled, it can be very clean environments, and it’s very high wage.”

The Advanced Manufacturing and Technology Center renovation at Heartland Community College in Normal, Illinois. The 45,000-square-foot renovation cost $17 million and includes new construction for the Electric Vehicle/Energy Storage Center.

Over the last few years, multiple businesses including chocolate maker Ferrero and agricultural company Brandt announced significant expansions to local facilities. Heartland Community College has been vital to providing workforce training, including apprenticeships and continuing education for employees to meet business needs, said Patrick Hoban, president and CEO of the Bloomington-Normal Economic Development Council.

“A lot of the jobs that are coming online don’t require 4-year degrees. They require stackable credentials, and Heartland provides that,” Hoban said. “Heartland is designed to be nimble and create the workforce that we need for manufacturing going forward.”

Heartland faculty members are designing courses so that students can build on their experiences, Campbell said. The center also is being designed with building and automation systems that can be used in classes as teaching resources.

“On the advanced manufacturing side, employers are very energetic and very attuned with what we are doing,” Campbell said. “On the EV side, there is a cautious optimism about the industry. It is still relatively new.”

Heartland Community College has been involved with renewables for more than a decade. In 2012, the college installed a 1.65-megawatt wind turbine, which the school reports can generate nearly 50 percent of the electricity used by the campus. The college is in McLean County, Illinois, which also is home to five wind different wind farms.

“Heartland Community College has been a critical educational resource for local residents to be able to grow and develop their careers here in our community,” said Don Taylor, president and CEO of Corn Belt Energy, which provides electricity to the Bloomington-Normal region. “Heartland helps us attract and retain the employers that enable families to live, work and play in central Illinois, now and long into the future.”