RANTOUL - The village is spending more than $200,000 to refurbish a former Chanute Air Force Base classroom building so Rantoul can attract businesses to lease office space there.
Rantoul's proposed 2003-04 budget includes spending $218,600 on improvements to Smith Hall, a former Air Force classroom facility.
While the village board won't vote on the budget until April 8, it recommended the proposal as part of a budget study session a few weeks ago.
Given to the village following Chanute's closure in 1993, Smith Hall sat largely vacant for most of the decade since that time, except for one year when Greyhound Bus Lines used it as the home of its driver training school.
Three years ago, a Jacksonville developer proposed converting the 112,950-square-foot building into a giant flea market, but that idea was turned down by the Rantoul Economic Development Commission.
The Champaign County Regional Planning Commission briefly considered using Smith Hall as a new home for Head Start. But that was before the commission settled on moving that program instead to the old Chanute dental clinic building.
Then, last year, expansion of Rantoul's Cingular Call Center forced the village board to convert Smith Hall into an office complex.
With Cingular taking a long-term lease on the first floor of the Rantoul Aviation Center building, the village needed to provide space for three entities that had been leasing some of that space.
The Air Force Base Conversion Agency (which now calls itself the Air Force Real Property Agency) and two insurance-related companies, the Assisted Housing Risk Management Association and Tricare Humana, both moved from the aviation center to Smith Hall.
Those three entities were joined by an Internet service provider and cable company, Conxxus.
?We had been talking about renovating Smith Hall and turn it into an office complex anyway,? said Rantoul Village Administrator Gary Adams. ?Then Cingular came along and wanted the rest of their building.?
As part of the arrival of Conxxus, the village installed fiber optic cable to Smith Hall, giving all offices in the building high-speed Internet capability. The village also made all the restrooms on the first floor handicapped-accessible.
In an effort to make Smith Hall more attractive for companies looking for new office space, the village has decided change the building's name to the Rantoul Corporate Technology Center and to invest money into additional improvements for the building, according to Rantoul Economic Development Director Reed Berger.
Berger said he has 36,240 square feet of available office space in the building.
The biggest project this year will be the installation of a new elevator.
With much of the first floor of Smith Hall now occupied, Berger said village officials believe an elevator would make second floor office space more attractive and would make the space more accessible to the handicapped.
The $118,600 elevator project will be funded by Rantoul's community development department, which got its money from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Rantoul Community Development Director Kent Tucker said he anticipates the elevator project to be completed before the end of this year.
In addition to the elevator project, Berger has budgeted another $100,000 of aviation funds for additional improvements to Smith Hall, including adding new security doors, landscaping, parking lot improvements and office space upgrades.
In addition, Berger said the village plans to offer incentives to firms interested in moving to the office complex.
?We're offering office space for as low as $5 to $7 per square foot, including utilities and maintenance,? Berger said.
Lessors can also use a 110-seat auditorium, two conference rooms and two kitchens inside the office complex.
When state transportation officials complete reconfiguring U.S. 45 within the next few years, they will bring the highway practically to Smith Hall's doorstep, making it a more attractive location for potential lessees, according to Berger.
Companies interested in leasing space at the center may call Berger at 893-9955.
You can reach Tim Mitchell at (217) 893-1423 or via e-mail at email@example.com .