The airport would essentially give the college a free, 20-year lease for about 2 acres between the two runways, said Airport Director Mike Dunn. The college would pay to build a classroom facility on the site for the expansion.
Rock Valley Trustee Patrick Murphy confirmed the college is in agreement on those points Tuesday, but said both sides are still negotiating the scope of site work associated with the project. A final agreement must still be approved by college and airport board members.
Rock Valley in June announced plans to expand its aviation maintenance program to serve a high school career education program.
The current aviation maintenance program is in a hangar on Falcon Road that the college leases from the airport. It's too old and too small to serve more students, college officials say.
Rock Valley's desire to expand the program has taken on a second purpose: to provide certified aviation mechanics for the region's aerospace cluster and, in particular, to supply labor for a potential maintenance, repair and overhaul operator, known in the industry as an MRO, at the airport.
"What this means is that we can supply skilled workers needed for future growth of the community," Murphy said.
The college produces fewer than 50 airframe and powerplant graduates a year. It would broaden its curriculum to include aviation electronics, aircraft composites and nondestructive testing. The college wants to produce 150 graduates a year within three years.
The airport would spend marketing dollars to draw students to the program and provide Rock Valley temporary classroom quarters if the new facility is not ready for occupancy for the fall 2014 term, Dunn said.
The airport said it would also pay for sewer, water and electrical service and access roads needed for the site.
"This is a huge deal for the community," Dunn said. "We're absolutely courting and trying to bring in a major (MRO) employer and having a school to produce these kinds of graduates is a huge tool."
Talks between Rock Valley and airport officials intensified in October, after it became clear that a private, out-of-town aviation school recruited by the airport would not commit to a Rockford campus.
Rock Valley and airport leaders pledged last month to expand Rock Valley's aviation maintenance program at the airport.
An early proposal had the airport building a $5.5 million facility, but college officials negotiated to lease land from the airport and pay for construction, Murphy said.
"We felt it would be a better deal for the college and for taxpayers to build a classroom building ourselves at a reasonable rate," Murphy said.
If the airport can land the MRO operator, jobs paying $48,000 a year could be available to graduates of Rock Valley's program, Dunn said.
"Emery Air has more than a hundred A&P mechanics between here and the Poplar Grove airport," Dunn said. "Woodward hasn't even opened their new campus and they have already said they will need these type of skilled workers. So there is absolutely demand in the community for these jobs as well."
Isaac Guerrero: 815-987-1361; email@example.com; @isaac_rrs