Rockford welcomes NIU

By Mark McGowan

Rockford area college officials welcome an NIU graduate studies extension.

“We’re looking forward to NIU being established in our community,” said Rock Valley College President Karl Jacobs. “It’ll be an evolutionary process of NIU fitting into Rockford’s family of higher education.”

However, the college would become concerned if a long-term expanding NIU presence would “erode Rockford College’s strong financial base,” said Sue Cassidy, the college’s relations director.

At this point, the NIU extension will not offer competition to Rockford College because “NIU has been offering classes in Rockford for years,” she said.

“Rockford College favors an invigorating educational environment … and recognizes that NIU could enhance opportunities for our community,” Cassidy said.

NIU has made no offers to buy the 75 acres of Rockford College land that has been on the market for about a month, she said.

The land is “prime State Street” acreage, said Noe Marinelli, Rockford College vice president of finance.

NIU President John La Tourette said NIU would need about 60,000 square feet for the extension, which is about one and a half acres.

Anne Kaplan, executive assistant to La Tourette, said NIU will not do anything until Gov. James Thompson releases the funds.

Rockford businessmen launched a writing campaign encouraging Thompson to release the site-study funds to find a location for NIU’s graduate school extension.

A Jan. 8 letter from the Rockford Area Chamber of Commerce asked Thompson to release $500,000 to “initiate development of an Education Center for NIU to serve Rockford and North Central Illinois.”

The site-study funding bill, proposed by Sen. Joyce Holmberg, D-Rockford, was vetoed by Thompson in September but was overridden at the fall veto session of the General Assembly.

A recent report from La Tourette’s office lists criteria for the location, such as easy access, evening safety and security, parking and expansion possibilities.

“We’ve conceptually looked at existing vacant schools and other different alternatives,” said Rockford Planning Coordinator Wayne Dust.

Dust said Rockford is looking at the accessibility of the location. “We’ve analyzed where people would come from, like Belvidere, Freeport and as far north as Beloit,” he said.

Dust said he did not know when Rockford would make recommendations for the site.