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NORMAL - Heartland Community College got the green light Tuesday to start construction on a $60 million expansion of its Raab Road campus.

At its monthly meeting, the Heartland board unanimously approved selling $59 million in general obligation bonds, associated with the project.

The board also approved a tentative fiscal 2008 operating budget of $21 million, which was about 8.5 percent more than last year.

The Phase II construction project will include a receiving building, child-care center, student center, community education center and athletic fields.

All construction is set to be finished by 2010, and new buildings could be going up as early as November.

For the bonds, annual interest will average about 4.6 percent over their 20-year life. The winning bid went to Wachovia Bank, said Kevin Heid, who represented First Midstate Bank, which handled the bond issue.

He also reported that Moody's Investor Services maintained Heartland's A1 rating, saying it was pleased with Heartland's strong financial performance. The highest rating is A3.

Tuesday's action is expected to raise Heartland's current tax rate of 39.5 cents per $100 equalized assessed valuation by 3.5 cents per $100 EAV. For the owner of a $200,000 home, that will add about $23 a year to a $263 tax bill for Heartland.

Before the board's vote, one Heartland district resident spoke against the proposal, and four others praised it.

Petition drive delayed vote

The board originally had planned to vote on this in May. However, it put off voting until June to wait for results from a petition drive aimed at forcing the bond issuance to a referendum vote.

The grass-roots effort needed to collect more than 12,600 valid signatures in just a few weeks to stop the board vote. But it failed, gathering less than 9,000.

Projected enrollment growth and the need for more space have been discussed as part of campus master plans for several years. However, the board first publicly discussed the $60 million, three-year proposal in January.

Despite much criticism of athletics' role in the Phase II plan, it represents only 6 percent of the construction budget, Heartland President Jon Astroth said Tuesday.

He noted that no tax dollars are used to support the athletic department, which is funded entirely through student fees.

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