It's unanimous: Rantoul sports complex approved

Rantoul Village Board Trustee Gary Wilson, left, shakes hands with Rec Superintendent Luke Humphrey Tuesday night after the village board unanimously approved a contract to build an approximately $20 million sports complex. Humphrey was credited with doing much of the leg work for the complex.

RANTOUL -- The village of Rantoul's attention now turns to land acquisition after the village board Tuesday night unanimously approved construction of an approximately $20 million artificial turf sports complex.

The vote was greeted by applause from a nearly full village board room.

The sports complex, which will seek to draw traveling teams for competition from a 400-mile radius as well as be open to local youth and adult players, is expected to greatly energize economic development in the northern Champaign County community. It will border Interstate 57 on the community's west side.

Village Administrator Scott Eisenhauer said he expects a verbal agreement to be reached to buy the 60 acres from the Warner family for the site "in 10 to 15 days."

Chuck Smith Oct. 9

Rantoul Mayor Chuck Smith speaks Tuesday night on the topic of the sports complex approved unanimously by the village board.

"We're very close," Eisenhauer said. "They have sent us a proposal, and we have crafted a counter proposal that we will send them now that this has been approved."

The board Tuesday approved a $16.5 million contract with Byrne and Jones to construct the major portion of the sports complex. Another estimated $4 million to $7 million will be spent with local contractors to do the remainder of the work and for purchase of the land, Eisenhauer said.

Byrne and Jones has constructed hundreds of sports facilities ranging from pro and college football facilities to community fields.

Eisenhauer said negotiations with Kristi Pflugmacher, operating on behalf of the Warner family, "have been very, very positive. She is a tremendous supporter of the project and of the community. I think she sees the benefit it will be for the community."

Rantoul officials reportedly have been fielding a call a day from potential developers of hotels, restaurants and retail establishments inquiring about possibly building near the site since the village announced its proposal in September.

Eisenhauer said the agreement will allow Byrne and Jones to begin working on the engineering for the project, which will include multiple fields for softball, baseball, soccer, lacrosse and football.

Crops on the site must be harvested.

Recreation Department Director Luke Humphrey said Pflugmacher indicated the harvest work could be completed in two weeks.

Humphrey was credited by many village officials for his work on the project.

"It's been nonstop since the first of the year, since Administrator Eisenhauer said go, so we went," Humphrey said. "The longest process was writing the (request for proposals) and the scope of work we were looking for, making sure we were precise in our language and expectations."

He said "a lot of leg work" will have to be done before site work can begin on the site. Much of it depends on the weather. Construction of the sports complex is expected to begin in 2020 with a March 2021 goal for opening.

Humphrey said the project received a great deal of support from the community.

Former village trustee Chad Smith, addressing the board before the vote, said the sports complex would be the most significant economic opportunity for the village since the days when Chanute Air Force Base was open.

Mayor Chuck Smith said he thought the measure would pass, but he wasn't sure if it would be a unanimous vote.

"It couldn't have been any better," he said. "I'm so proud of this village board."

Smith said he thought the fact that trustees were heavily involved in the decision-making process from early on, and one-on-one sessions were conducted to answer their questions, helped to convince trustees to approve the proposal.