DANVILLE — Danville Area Community College officials on Wednesday will dedicate the newly renovated Mary Miller Center.
They also will name the Health Professions Center on the building's south end in honor of retired state Rep. Bill Black for helping to secure millions in state funding for improvements at the college — including $5.2 million for the Mary Miller expansion and renovation — during his time in the state Legislature.
The dedication and naming ceremony will be held at 11 a.m. at the Mary Miller Center on the east side of the campus, at 2000 E. Main St.
The Mary Miller complex houses the gym, other athletic facilities and the math, science and health professions division. As the college expanded its health professions offerings to meet the demand of students of employers, the building quickly ran out of space to accommodate the programs adequately.
For years, various versions of the expansion topped DACC's capital improvements list, but the work was held up by a lack of state funding. The funding was included in the state's capital budget last year.
The multi-phase project, which kicked off in May 2011, added and renovated a combined 17,000 square feet, providing nine new classrooms, new space for the physical education program, state-of-the-art training equipment and energy-saving geothermal heating and cooling technology.
DACC President Alice Jacobs credited Black, a DACC alumnus and former instructor and administrator, for his role in bringing more than $40 million to the college for infrastructure improvements. "When this latest project was funded as a result of the efforts of Sen. Mike Frerichs working with Rep. Black, it seemed only appropriate that a portion of the renovation and expansion project carry his name," she said.
The William B. Black Health Professions Center houses programs in nursing (LPN/ADN), radiologic technology, sonography and echocardiography. Jacobs said the expansion will allow the college to add more programs, and administrators currently are considering what the next step might be.
Black called the honor overwhelming and humbling.
DACC "is simply one of the greatest assets in Danville and Vermilion County and it's a very special place to me and my family," he said, who served as an administrator and instructor at the college prior to his nearly 25 years in the Illinois House.
His relationship with the college goes back much further, however. After major surgery ended his dreams of becoming a Navy pilot and caused the draft board to declare him physically unfit to serve, Black, who recently had graduated from William Jewell College, tried to find a job in Danville. He was turned down at General Motors, Teepak, General Electric and other companies that "weren't about to hire someone whose draft classification was 4-F," he said.
Upon learning that Black minored in history, the Danville schools superintendent offered him a job teaching social studies at North Ridge Junior High School for a semester. Black could continue teaching on the condition that he take a college course on educational methods before the next semester.
"It just so happened that the community college offered this class," recalled Black, who successfully completed the class at night and over the summer and, as a result, had a vocation and new direction in life. He taught at North Ridge and, after earning a master's degree, became a guidance counselor at Danville High School before working at the college.
Black's wife finished her college coursework through a joint DACC-Eastern Illinois University program, and his daughter started her college career there. He also saw DACC's effect on many others.
"When I left (DACC) and went to the Illinois House, one of the things I carried with me was an understanding that, hey, if you put money into community colleges, you can retrain your workforce, you can upgrade skills, you can make college affordable. What (DACC) has done with its transfer program, College Express, workforce training, customized training for local businesses, with meeting the need for health care employees is phenomenal. It's what we call the light cavalry of education. They can gear up and put something together quickly. I'm just an unabashed supporter of DACC."