Hunt for branch site could begin

By Mark McGowan

NIU can start looking for branch sites in Rockford after the Illinois House of Representatives passed a $500,000 site study bill Thursday.

Gov. James Thompson vetoed the bill earlier, but it was overridden at the fall veto session of the General Assembly two weeks ago.

“I’m overwhelmed,” said Sen. Joyce Holmberg, D-Rockford, the bill’s sponsor. “We knew all along the governor was wrong. It’s a good idea whose time has come.”

Holmberg said the process could begin right away. She said she is encouraging Thompson to release the funding soon. “When he sees it was a bi-partisan vote,” Thompson probably will start the process, Holmberg said.

With the money, officials will be able to put a down payment on land and buildings in Rockford, Holmberg said.

Barry Hickman, Thompson’s public relations assistant, said Thompson has not yet reacted to the bill’s passage, as he is occupied with property tax meetings and the issue of riverboat gambling. “That’s what’s really big down here (in Springfield) now,” he said.

olmberg said she was encouraged by the number of Republicans supporting the bill, but said this amount was unusual. “If the governor vetoes a bill, his party will usually uphold the veto,” she said.

Rock Valley College and three Rockford public schools are the main considerations, she said. Holmberg said RVC is a good site because of its cafeteria and parking space available.

Other sites being considered are the Rockford Area Vocational Center, located at Jefferson High School, Haight Elementary School and neighboring Kennedy Middle School.

VC President Karl Jacobs said the bill’s passing is “no surprise. It had a pretty good chance.”

Jacobs said he does not think there was a disagreement in policy, but in the process of passing the bill. “It’s the cart before the horse,” he said.

The designation of “branch” is inaccurate, Jacobs said. “A branch means a degree-providing institution. That’s not what this center really means. I think Rockford has a over-expectation of this.”

The branch does not mean much to RVC, Jacobs said, citing “almost a mystique” about local college presidents and the city’s hopes for increased economic development and respectability.

“I think it’s more symbolic than what will practically be delivered,” he said. “Time will tell.”

Holmberg said the bill’s passing was the “high point” in her career. She has been a senator since 1983.

NIU President John La Tourette and Rockford Mayor Charles Box were unavailable for comment Thursday.