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CHAMPAIGN — Construction will begin Monday on a long-awaited University of Illinois feed mill to replace the aging structure on St. Mary's Road.

The Department of Animal Sciences announced Thursday that work on the $20 million state-of-the-art Feed Technology Center will be led by ASI Industrial, based in Billings, Mont.

The facility will be built near the UI poultry farm on South Race Street in Urbana. Construction is expected to wrap up by September 2020.

Kim Kidwell, dean of the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences, said Thursday she is "absolutely thrilled" to begin work on a project 25 years in the making.

"It's been a long time coming, and I think this is a transformational moment for the College of ACES and animal sciences," she said. "It took an incredible village of people to make this happen."

A unique public-private financing arrangement allowed the project to move ahead "dramatically faster," she said.

Similar to a lease-to-own model, it was approved by UI trustees last fall for the feed mill and a campus instructional facility on Springfield Avenue in Champaign.

Both will be built and owned by Provident Foundation Inc., a nonprofit group that has contracted with lead developer Vermilion/Campbell Coyle. Bonds issued through the Illinois Finance Authority will pay for the projects. The UI will pay rent to cover the annual bond payments and take over ownership of the buildings once they're paid off.

The $6 million provided by the campus will be a "down payment" for the feed mill project, with the rest of the annual payments to be covered by private donations, Kidwell said. The college "is still in a fundraising mode," working with industry partners and supporters to pay it off as quickly as possible.

Alltech Inc. and the Illinois Farm Bureau have committed to the project, though the college hasn't released the amount of their support.

The existing feed mill, just south of State Farm Center, was built in 1927 and manufactures some 6,000 tons of feed each year for livestock and research. It's adjacent to the UI Research Park and was touted by developer Peter Fox as a potential site for a new UI ice arena.

The new complex will deliver 8,000 tons of specialized research diets each year, the UI said.

Dozens of Illinois animal nutrition scientists and hundreds of students will use it to get hands-on experience with the latest food technologies, designing and testing healthy diets for livestock and companion animals, officials said.

The UI has developed new courses to expand the curriculum in animal nutrition and feed technology, including a possible new undergraduate concentration.

"We want to be pre-eminent in feed technology and feed science, and this is a huge step toward getting us there," Kidwell said.

Reporter/Columnist

Julie Wurth is a reporter covering the University of Illinois at The News-Gazette. Her email is jwurth@news-gazette.com, and you can follow her on Twitter (@jawurth).