Branch site search goes on

By Joe Bush

While the wait continues for Gov. James Thompson’s release of the $500,000 approved last week for development of an NIU branch in Rockford, the search for a campus site goes on.

Rockford Mayor Charles Box said he wants the “educational center,” as NIU President John La Tourette calls it, located downtown. The mayor said he preferred the area west of the Rock River, to attract private sector development dollars. Rep. E.J. “Zeke” Giorgi, D-Rockford, who co-sponsored the override of Thompson’s initial veto of the appropriation, suggested Rock Valley College as the site.

La Tourette said, “There’s pressure (for different sites) from a whole group of people.” He said he hopes to have the site chosen by February or March. “We haven’t really eliminated anything as of yet.”

Criteria have been developed for the site selection with the aid of an NIU study done last year, he said. Students enrolled in current NIU-Rockford programs were asked the qualities they desire in a branch site. Current NIU-Rockford programs include MBA, 11 masters programs in education and baccalaureate completion in nursing and general studies.

Because more than 50 percent of those students are women and many classes will be held in late afternoon or evening, lighting and security ranked high, as did accessibility, travel time and parking, La Tourette said.

“If we invest in a building and students don’t show up, we’d look pretty silly,” he said.

La Tourette said travel times need to be considered from Freeport, which is west of Rockford, Belvidere to the east and the Illinois/Wisconsin state line. In addition, easy access for NIU faculty is a factor.

“The ideal site would be not more than 30 minutes from the furthest student origination point,” he said.

This situation is different from NIU’s acquisition of the former Anaconda-Erickson building for NIU’s College of Engineering in Sycamore several years ago. The building had been AE’s world engineering headquarters and development was “a very modest investment,” La Tourette said.

The $500,000 allotted for the campus can be used as a downpayment on an existing structure or land necessary for construction. “You don’t find too many completely compatible buildings,” La Tourette said, adding the AE building acquisition was “one in a thousand.”

Box offered Rockford’s help in the selection process, which could be financial or corporate, should NIU need to share a building to reduce operating expenses, La Tourette said.