Navistar Inc. is in the home stretch.
The manufacturer of diesel engines, trucks, buses and military vehicles is poised to occupy its new corporate space in Lisle, with the first wave of 200 people in the Navistar Defense division slated to fill the fifth floor of the front buildings on the Warrenville Road campus May 20.
Construction crews have plenty to do as they push ahead on renovating the 87-acre property, formerly home to Alcatel-Lucent. Many work spaces have been gutted as part of the overhaul, and innovative energy and electronics systems and environmentally benign features are being built into the corporate reincarnation.
“We’re trying to make this a state-of-the-art facility, balancing that with fiscal prudence,” said Don Sharp, Navistar’s vice president and chief information officer.
Efficiency is an undercurrent in the company’s reconfiguration, which also entails a substantial facelift at the sprawling testing facility at North Avenue and Mannheim Road in Melrose Park. Some 500 employees at the Fort Wayne, Ind., location also have been offered jobs at the new site, but it is not yet known how many will opt to move.
Centered on product development and anchored by a test track, the Indiana site will stay open, but Sharp said operations will be “ramped down” considerably there.
“We will continue to have some level, although it will be dramatically smaller, of activity there,” he said.
In Lisle, the biggest personnel influx will come in June and July, when engineers in the product development division will take up office space in the rear buildings, across the pond that lies behind the distinctive façade of the complex.
In the past seven years, the corporation has doubled in size, Sharp said. And as regulations and emissions standards have introduced new challenges, the company’s scattered sites have sustained a degree of fragmentation that cuts into productivity.
“For us, it’s really about a culture change, and not just moving people,” Sharp said.
Eventually some 4,000 employees will report for work at the Lisle campus, including 3,200 on the company payroll and about 800 full-time equivalent contractors. Approximately 3,500 people will be working in the complex by April 2012, officials said.
“There’s 600 to 700 new jobs (planned) that don’t exist now,” said Jeff Bowen, vice president for special projects.
An additional 400 local construction trades people will remain engaged in the campus update until at least the end of 2011, company representatives said.
New collaborative relationships are coming along with the move, some of them foreseen and some not. The endorsement of the local business community and area governing bodies was cultivated over the 14 months of negotiations that culminated in the company announcing its imminent purchase of the campus last September. Other partnerships, such as Bowen’s position on the board of the nearby Giant Steps Illinois school for kids with autism, a onetime project foe, were not anticipated in the business plan.
The company is taking steps to be a good neighbor, Bowen and Sharp said. It provided a deluxe bus for the Lisle Park District to use for its senior program and is sponsoring the children’s garden at the Morton Arboretum, among assorted community involvements.
Some of the campus’ neighbors — a few of whom challenged the project aggressively enough to bring it to a standstill for more than three months — are becoming friends, the officers said. They were pleasantly surprised when more than 300 people, including numerous residents coming in for a closer look, turned out for their last public open house in March.
“The reality is, we got a lot from the community,” said Sharp, who surmised that without the contention, the new bonds would not have been forged.