Work set to begin on Lincoln's Challenge construction

RANTOUL — Work will begin this month on a long-sought, $32 million reconstruction of the Lincoln's Challenge campus at the old Chanute Air Force Base in Rantoul.

Gov. Pat Quinn will be in Rantoul Saturday to announce the upgrade, which includes demolishing World War II-era structures on the base and constructing five buildings for the program that serves at-risk teenagers.

"The Lincoln's Challenge Academy has a proven track record of helping at-risk youths get started down the path toward success," Quinn said. "This project will make sure these young people are being educated in state-of-the-art classrooms to learn the latest technologies, which will give them the tools they need to succeed."

Lincoln's Challenge has graduated 14,047 young people since it began in 1993, according to director Peter Thomas. It is the largest single-site program of its kind in the country.

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, Thomas said.

The 147,000-square foot construction project being announced today has five buildings, including:

— A two-story educational facility to house classrooms, computer labs, multipurpose rooms, medical exam rooms, offices, a library, photo lab and print shop.

— A multiple use auditorium/athletic facility that can be used for graduation ceremonies and physical training.

— A dining facility.

— A maintenance garage.

— Coed dormitory space.

Work is to begin this month and be completed in July 2016. River City Construction of East Peoria was awarded the construction contract; its bid of $32,020,000 was the lowest of six submitted.

Much of the funding for the project comes from Quinn's 2009 Illinois Jobs Now program, a statewide capital construction initiative that included more than $30 billion in building projects over the last five years. Lincoln's Challenge has been on the construction list since that time.

"The good news is that Lincoln's Challenge has been a good use of those old Air Force facilities. The bad news is that those facilities are aging. This gives us the opportunity to do some much-needed renovation and to continue the redevelopment of Chanute," said state Rep. Chad Hays, R-Catlin, whose district includes Rantoul. "This is a project that certainly will be very positive for Rantoul and for the folks doing the work and very positive for Lincoln's Challenge."

Lincoln's Challenge, which has 140 employees, will continue to operate during the construction, state officials said.

Two old Air Force residence halls will be demolished in the Lincoln's Challenge upgrade. Building 300, just north of the building that Lincoln's Challenge operates from, will be razed first to make room for two new buildings. Once construction of the new buildings is completed, the primary home of Lincoln's Challenge, Building 303, will be demolished as well.

A silver certificate from the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) will be sought for the project, according to state officials. LEED certification means that the project will include a high degree of energy efficiency and minimal environmental impact.

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