Century-old City Colleges of Chicago (CCC) is rebuilding from the ground up. On a parcel on Chicago's near west side, crews are drilling caissons for the new Malcolm X College School of Health, a $251-million, 500,000-sq-ft community college that will provide hands-on training for careers in health science with simulated hospital spaces and patient rooms.

Room dimensions, beds, headboards and finishes will match those of major health care operators in the neighborhood, including Rush University Medical Center and John Stroger Jr. Hospital of Cook County, both consultants on the project.

"Depending on the area of study, simulation exercises will cue students when to step up or step back and get out of the way" says Jim Jankowski, project director with Malcolm X design architect Cannon Design, Chicago. "Students learn best by doing. Even medical schools engage in simulation exercises."

Here, course work will prepare students, many from lower-income households, to advance to a four-year college or to an entry-level position in health science. Some may gain employment as technicians, others as physicians' assistants.

"The goal is to equip them with the skills to function as an asset to an organization from Day 1," says David Sanders, CCC deputy chief operating officer.

To the south and east, in Chicago's Pullman neighborhood, crews have broken ground on a new $44.8-million Transportation, Distribution and Logistics (TDL) Center at CCC's Olive-Harvey College. When complete, the 103,000-sq-ft TDL, designed by Oak Brook, Ill.-based FGM Architects, will house automotive and diesel engine laboratories, simulated driving facilities, a testing center and vehicle bays. In addition to taxi and truck-driving training, students will learn to operate forklifts and repair and maintain engines and mechanical equipment. Like Malcolm X, TDL will benefit from being adjacent to related industry, in this case a major regional rail hub.

In all, CCC is spending $500 million to upgrade its facilities, beginning with TDL and Malcolm X.

In laying physical foundations for the two facilities, crews also are building educational foundations to address "a chronic mismatch between public education and what employers need," as the Chicago Tribune recently put it. For CCC, the disconnect resulted in dismal attendance and graduation rates, prompting the launch of College to Careers, a 2011 initiative to align curricula at six of seven CCC facilities with such high-growth industries in metro Chicago as health care, manufacturing, transportation, IT, culinary science and business and professional services. "We realized our facilities and programs couldn't be defined solely by access," says Cheryl Hyman, CCC chancellor. "They also had to be defined by what success looks like."

While Hyman and colleagues spent 18 months researching and rethinking curricula, newly elected Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel lobbied—and lobbied hard, says Hyman—to bring on board more than 100 industry partners to develop curricula, train students, consult on facility designs "and give students a first shot at interviews," says Hyman.

As the eight-story Malcolm X rises, local residents will have a shot at joining its crews, the result of a program that reserves 120 jobs—or 12.6% of the project's work force—for community members, whether experienced or not. A similar program is in place for TDL. Residents new to trades are undergoing 16 weeks of pre-apprenticeship instruction at Dawson Technical Institute (DTI), an occupational training center affiliated with CCC's Kennedy-King College, located on Chicago's south side. In late February, budding carpenters were completing the second week of a five-week module that focuses on transit levels and other measurement tools as well as skills required to execute and interpret working drawings, construction documents and other blueprints.