Lincoln's Challenge reconstruction ready to begin

SPRINGFIELD — Five years after it was first listed as part of the Illinois Jobs Now capital program, the reconstruction of the Lincoln's Challenge Academy campus in Rantoul is about to begin.

Gov. Pat Quinn's fiscal year 2015 budget includes Lincoln's Challenge on the capital projects list, as does the capital list forwarded by House Democrats in their budget program. Both list the project in the neighborhood of $38 million, including $32 million for construction.

"The project will move forward soon," said Dave Blanchette, a spokesman for Quinn.

The state Capital Development Board said the new campus for at-risk youth will include approximately 136,000 square feet of new buildings on the old Chanute Air Force Base, including an education building, a residential/administration building and a gymnasium/logistics building.

Demolition of existing World War II-era buildings, all of them old Air Force structures, will be included as funds permit, the CDB said.

"Lincoln's Challenge is a phenomenal program helping thousands of young people in our state," said Sen. Mike Frerichs. "They have been working out of antiquated facilities and doing it without complaint, but I am pleased that we are finally starting the construction that I supported in our capital bill several years ago."

Frerichs voted for Quinn's $31 billion Illinois Jobs Now program in 2009, which included the money to rehabilitate the Lincoln's Challenge campus.

Rep, Chad Hays, R-Catlin, said he's glad to see that the project is about to begin.

"Certainly better late in the process than never," he said. "I know that the good people at Lincoln's Challenge have been anticipating this and looking forward to this for a long time. If you've toured some of those facilities recently, it's undeniable that some of those facilities are in very desperate need of upgrading so I know this will be a positive not only for Lincoln's Challenge but for Rantoul too."

The program is operated by the Illinois National Guard for high school dropouts, 16 to 18 years old. There are two 22-week, quasi-military classes each year. The current class of 270 cadets is scheduled to graduate on June 14, according to Lincoln's Challenge Director Peter Thomas.

Lincoln's Challenge, the largest single site program of its kind in the nation, is in its 20th year, Thomas said. It has graduated 14,047 young people in that time.

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