NIU expansion could step up ladder at end of month

By Vickie Snow

Another step up the ladder of NIU’s northwest expansion could be taken by the end of the month.

After receiving 16 site proposals for an educational center in Rockford, NIU and Rockford business officials are examining the possibilities during the next couple of weeks.

Once the site is chosen Gov. James Thompson is expected to release $500,000 for planning the NIU Rockford Center, which will offer mostly graduate-level courses.

Two committees will come up with a site recommendation to give to NIU President John La Tourette, who will make the final decision as to where to put the center in Rockford.

Some of the site offerings include donated land, but NIU “will be looking into all 16 sites,” said NIU Provost Kendall Baker.

This task falls on the shoulders of the recently-formed University Site Selection Advisory Committee, which is co-chaired by Baker and Eddie Williams, NIU vice president for Finance and Planning.

The committee was in Rockford Monday to check out some of the sites with existing buildings and will return for another tour Friday, he said.

The advisory committee will work with a Rockford community group in selecting the center’s place. The group includes Rockford Mayor Charles Box, Sen. Joyce Holmberg, D-Rockford, and other area business representatives.

Rockford’s 16 proposals were responses to a “request for proposals” mailed by NIU with an Oct. 5 deadline. The requests included items such as cost, enhancements; facility and land requirements; general environmental conditions, and accessibility.

Some of the site requirements include room for 21,000 net assignable square feet and 350 parking spaces—both of which should be able to double in size over time. Reasonable commuting distance, access to highways and proper safety and security measures are also site requirements.

Once NIU receives the half of a million dollars, it will spend the money to plan and design the center. Working with consultants to match a building design to the programs and resources will be part of the job, Baker said.

If a site is chosen with existing facilities, some of the money will be used for remodeling because “it is unlikely there is a building in Rockford that is configured to how we want it,” he said.

The money also could be applied toward a down payment, Baker said.

After years of studying the issue, NIU received a unanimous green light Sept. 5 by the Illinois Board of Higher Education to start actual work on the center.

Six graduate program areas will be offered at the center—computer science, corporate communications, graduate engineering and technology, graduate nursing, public administration and allied health.

Some baccalaureate degree-completion programs will be offered in technology and allied health fields.

NIU officials seek to not only serve the Rockford community but also the surrounding areas of Freeport, Belvidere and South Beloit—a region that has a population of about 500,000.

NIU is encouraging other universities as well as businesses to participate in its off-campus facility.