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Thursday, Jan. 21, 2010 04:34 pm

Community colleges get “green”

Wind turbines, solar panels and renewable energy will become top priorities for Illinois, says Gov. Pat Quinn, who announced a $1.7 million grant promoting green job training at community colleges last Thursday.

The Illinois Community College Sustainability Network (ICCSN), which consists of all 48 community colleges, will use the grant to expand green educational and training opportunities, and to establish green job centers throughout the state.

Though the state remains embedded in a budget crisis, with the current deficit reaching $13 billion, Quinn says it’s important to place the budding green economy as a top priority.

“Investing in green job training will ensure Illinois’ long-term success in one of the country’s fastest-growing industries, and will allow us to build upon our position as a leader in sustainability,” Quinn says.

Lincoln Land Community College’s Green Center may receive a portion of the grant money, though it’s unclear how it will be dispersed among individual colleges.

Judy Jozaitis, vice president of workforce development and community education at Lincoln Land, says she’s not sure how much her school will get, but she is hoping the Green Center will be able to move some of its projects forward.

Jozaitis says Lincoln Land is in need of training equipment for its solar and wind power classes, and she’d like to see new greenhouses and a windmill on campus.

“We should have those things already, but it just boils down to money,” she says.

The grant money comes from a state-appropriate renewable energy fund controlled by the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, according to Marcelyn Love, a spokeswoman for the department.

Bert Jacobson, project director for ICCSN and dean for sustainability and planning at Kankakee Community College, says the grant money will build infrastructure, help ICCSN hire additional staff and expand 14 sustainability centers like the one at Lincoln Land.

Community colleges are the perfect building block for green education because their smaller size means they are able to know and meet the needs of local residents and businesses, Jacobson says.

“We’re in the perfect spot because we’re a locally-situated college that has the kind of connections needed to provide useful services and classes,” he says.

The classes will include new programs like the renewable energy specialization, where students will take courses in solar-thermal technology, wind energy and sustainable home design. Many schools offer non-credit workshops in recycling, energy conservation and weatherization.

However, House Minority Leader Tom Cross says, while he supports the green initiative, he does not think it will solve the state’s fiscal problems. Quinn is in no position to promise money to anyone, he says.

“We’re not at a time where we can say yes to everything, and [Quinn’s] a guy who’s in a position of liking to say yes,” Cross says. “None of us can keep doing that.”

Jacobson says he is not sure when ICCSN will receive the grant money.

Green technology is still expensive, Jozaitis said. She hopes her school’s programs will make people see it as a necessity.

“We want to change the perception of what green is all about so the general public starts to value it more,” she says. “Until your average person starts to value things like weatherizing homes, putting in better windows, purchasing a solar heating system, the companies aren’t going to produce it cheaply.”

Cross says the state needs to focus its attention on attracting new businesses.

 “I don’t discount anything on the green side, but first and foremost is job growth,” he says.

Over 18,000 Illinois residents have benefitted from ICCSN’s programs since 2008.

Contact Diane Ivey at divey@illinoistimes.com.
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