$135M in infrastructure project bonds approved

By Kyla Gardner

The Board of Trustees voted in unanimous approval for the issue of $135 million worth of bonds for the renovation of several residence halls and Holmes Student Center, the construction of an intramural sports complex and the improvement of roads and bike paths on campus.

NIU will issue 30-year Build America Bonds, offered by the federal government at a reduced interest rate as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, to companies that will then sell the bonds to investors. NIU must pay back the bonds and corresponding interest over a 30-year period.

The BOT convened for a “special business meeting” in order to take advantage of the reduced interest rates before the economic stimulus bond offer ends Dec. 31.

“It’s negligent not to move in this direction at this particular time,” said John Butler, vice chair of the Board of Trustees, at the meeting.

NIU President John Peters said the projects are part of his Vision 2020 Initiative announced in the Sept. 2 State of the University address.

Vision 2020 is Peters’ strategic plan to promote student, faculty and facility excellence throughout the NIU community over the next 10 years.

“Our campus residence halls are aging and in need of repairs or renovation,” Peters said. “It is an investment in our future.”

NIU spokesperson Joe King said the state of residence halls on campus is just one example of NIU falling behind comparable universities.

King said most other Illinois state universities have upgraded their housing over the last several years.

“To keep pace with them, this is something that we need to do,” King said.

Student Trustee Robert Sorsby said NIU’s recruitment and retention rate has been affected by the lack of housing improvements.

Student fees will be the primary means of payment of interest on the bonds and will start being assessed for the 2011 fall semester. Students carrying 12 or more credit hours and living in the residence halls will pay a residence hall surcharge of $25 per credit hour during academic year 2011, $30 per credit hour in 2012, $40 per credit hour in 2013 and $50 per credit hour in 2014.

All students will be charged a bond revenue fee per semester of $2.50 in academic year 2011, $3.50 in 2012, $4.75 in 2013 and $6 in 2014.

After academic year 2014, the fees will stay constant until the bonds are paid off, King said.

Peters said he believes that when students pay a fee, they should see a result from that fee.

The BOT chose to phase in the fees over several years so that the students using the renovated infrastructure would be the ones paying for it, Sorsby said.

The bonds will fund the continued renovation of Grant C and D towers. Grant housing will accommodate 160 less students, down to 340 from 500, because room sizes will be increased by 30 percent. Bathrooms will be remodeled to provide more privacy, electrical systems will be updated and the roofs will be replaced. The communal areas between towers will be renovated and a food court style dining hall created.

Each tower costs $16 million to renovate, Peters said, plus the cost of the communal areas.

Gilbert Hall, closed in 1995 to accommodate offices, will undergo construction to become a livable building again. Renovations include the addition of an elevator to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, wireless connectivity, modernization of the bathrooms and a cyber cafe.

The Holmes Student Center Bookstore main entrance and textbook pickup and processing area will be remodeled. Other issues to be addressed at the HSC are the leaking roof and “poor access” for people with disabilities, Peters said.

Peters said he wishes more construction could be done to the HSC, but that the project focuses only on “the highest priority” areas.

An outdoor, lighted intramural sports complex will be built north of the Convocation Center and include two soccer/lacrosse fields, two football/rugby fields, two baseball/softball fields and two sand volleyball courts.

Eight parking lots on campus will be “expanded, repaired or replaced to enhance parking,” according to an NIU press release.

Several roads heavily trafficked by the Huskie Bus line will also be repaved.

Peters said he wants to “encourage more bikes on campus in the next 10 years” for sustainability and will accommodate cyclists with new bike paths.

The bonds will also be used to pay off the higher-interest rate bonds that funded the construction of the Convocation Center, Sorsby said.

“It’s pretty much a win-win for the university,” he said.

Other proposals approved by the BOT were continued maintenance on the Oracle/PeopleSoft system for about $564,000, permission to enter into agreements with organizations under a $65 million grant to increase Broadband technology over a nine-county region, extension of the agreement between NIU and Fermilab to continue operating the neutron therapy center for $650,000, a $26,000 increase in funding for student recruitment through radio advertisements and billboards and the demolition of the University Apartments to make way for the new freshman residence hall.