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Waubonsee debuts impressive new downtown Aurora campus

Chemistry lab coordinator Kathy Wall (left) greets people as they enter Chemistry lab during Waubonsie Community College's gropening tour new

Chemistry lab coordinator Kathy Wall (left) greets people as they enter the Chemistry lab during Waubonsie Community College's grand opening tour of the new facilities in downtown Aurora Friday, June 3, 2011. | Marianne Mather~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: September 29, 2011 12:49AM

AURORA — Dale Von Ohlen sat quietly in a middle row as city officials cut the ribbon at the new Waubonsee Community College campus in downtown Aurora Friday afternoon.

But Von Ohlen, who turns 90 on Saturday, had as much to do with Waubonsee’s new campus at 18 S. River St. as anyone else — he served as the first chairman of the Waubonsee Board of Trustees from 1966-1983. He remembers when the college was just two buildings on Stolp Island.

And he serves today as a member of the Waubonsee Foundation Advisory Board.

As he sat in the new $50 million campus with state senators, local leaders and Waubonsee officials, Von Ohlen cracked a joke.

“The fact is, we’re only a block away from Lake Street where we started,” he said.

“I didn’t think Waubonsee would ever get this big, but then again I didn’t think Aurora would grow this big, either,” Von Ohlen said.

The city has added about 55,000 residents in the last 10 years. And in it’s 45 years of operation, Waubonsee has served 290,000 students, according to college President Christine Sobek.

“It grew from nothing to this,” Von Ohlen said.

‘History and the new’

The 132,000-square-foot building will house 3,000 students — about as many as the previous downtown campus across the Fox River at Galena Boulevard and Stolp Avenue, said Stephanie Wennmacher, communications manager at Waubonsee.

Wennmacher said the college expects 1 to 2 percent enrollment growth per year for the next five years.

The new 52-classroom building has eight computer labs, two science labs, a certified nurse’s assistant lab and a sign language lab.

“Today’s celebration is a marriage between our history and the new,” Sobek said.

Waubonsee students will now be able to earn an associate’s degree entirely at the downtown Aurora campus, rather than also taking classes at the college’s main campus in Sugar Grove, Wennmacher said.

“We just didn’t have the room for it before,” said Jill Wold, assistant vice president of instruction, of the previous downtown campus which opened in 1986.

That was always part of the Waubonsee dream: to be able to offer associate degree programs at the downtown campus, Sobek said.

“Now, it’s a reality,” she said.

Wennmacher said the Aurora-based degree programs will mean more students who begin as English as a Second Language or GED students will be able to transfer seamlessly into credit-based courses. The campus will serve 2,400 ESL students this summer.

“That was part of the planning — we wanted to bridge those students from adult education courses to career or degree courses,” Wold said.

Students will have access to one-stop services, too — they’ll be able to get their financial aid, admissions and class counseling all done at the downtown campus.

Adult education and workforce development will also be cornerstones at the new campus.

Part of the college’s 2020 Master Plan, the new downtown campus joins the Plano campus, which opened last year, the main campus on Route 47 in Sugar Grove, and on the grounds at the Rush-Copley Medical Center.

“After years of board planning, we now get to see the campus change the lives of local residents,” said board Chairman Richard ‘Shorty’ Dixon.

Downtown convenience

The new downtown campus, which will offer 67 different credit classes, will be a lot more convenient for Aurorans like Alle Ibarra, a paramedic earning a nursing degree who was already signed up to trek to Plano for classes this summer.

“Either you couldn’t get out there, or you wouldn’t get out there. Sugar Grove may have seemed like far-away Iowa to some residents,” Wennmacher said.

Summer classes will begin Monday at the new site.

Mother and daughter and soon-to-be study buddies Legina and Angelique Deaver will be starting classes downtown together in the fall. They’ll be able to walk from their house on Downer Place.

“It’s wonderful that we’re so close,” said mother Legina Deaver. “Now that she’s going to school, it seemed like the perfect time (for me) to go.”

It will also mean that 21-year-old Jorge Chairez, who was picking up a math book in the new book store Friday, will be able to get to and from class and work in just a few minutes.

“(Traveling to) Sugar Grove was a lot more gas,” he said. “I’ll be able to take more courses here.”

Where once deterioration and plight stood, now a physical monument to education stands in Aurora’s downtown, said Aurora Mayor Tom Weisner.

“Indeed this is a day that our dreams have come true,” Weisner said, before cutting the ribbon.

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