Start-up funds released

By Mark McGowan

SPRINGFIELD—NIU won its nearly two-year battle Monday to open a graduate studies center in Rockford when Gov. James Thomspon released $500,000 in start-up money.

The Rockford campus, which NIU officials decided to locate on the city’s eastern edge, became the center of controversy when Thompson said he wanted NIU to reconsider a downtown site or he might withhold the funds.

“It’s very good news,” said NIU President John La Tourette Monday evening, who learned the news second-hand when reporters in Springfield asked him for interviews.

La Tourette said reporters asked Thompson if he could remember the first bill he signed. Responding to a follow-up question, the former governor said the last bill he signed was the one releasing NIU’s money.

“So, that’s my last act,” Thompson told reporters. “In 14 years, I’ve signed almost 12,000 bills—acted on every one of them.”

La Tourette said Thompson probably was swayed by a number of conversations in recent days, including a talk on Friday afternoon between himself and Thompson and others with Rockford business leaders.

“The conversation was congenial and productive,” La Tourette said, adding he was sure the former governor was convinced an East State Street site could be used.

The matter now goes to the Illinois Capital Development Board, who will receive NIU’s scope statement on the project Wednesday at its monthly meeting. The board will assist NIU in selecting architects and engineers and be involved in the design process, La Tourette said.

NIU must now wait for construction funds to be approved by the Illinois legislature, although La Tourette said he is “unsure” what lawmakers will do. Once construction money falls into NIU’s hands, the school can begin accepting bids for the project.

The Rockford campus is being developed on 10 acres of land donated by developer Lobdell, Hall & Andrews, Inc., and should not cost more than $6 million.