After a second day of debate, the Board of Regents approved NIU’s plans to add two gymnasiums and a weight room to the Recreation Center.
The proposal the Regents passed was the original proposal NIU had brought to them on Wednesday, before Regent John Ebbesen recommended that NIU construct a multipurpose sports arena and renovate the Chick Evans Field House into recreation space instead of add-on to the rec center.
La Tourette urged the Regents to consider the rec center and Ebbesen’s arena proposal as two separate issues at Thursday’s meeting. In response to comments made by La Tourette and Eddie Williams, NIU vice president of finance and planning, the Regents approved NIU’s President’s Report, which included the rec center proposal without alterations and with only one objection, from Ebbesen.
The rec center addition will cost students an average of $10.80 a year in student fees. La Tourette said he figured the cost of an arena like Ebbesen had proposed would raise student fees by anywhere between $60 to $100 a year.
Ebbesen said he wanted to be put on record as voting no to the rec center expansion but yes to the rest of the president’s report.
“We should be concerned with long-range planning,” he said.
Regent James Myles explained how his opinion on Ebbesen’s proposal changed since Wednesday’s meeting of the finance and facilities committee.
“Yesterday (Wednesday), I was willing to agree with my colleague’s proposal, but I think President La Tourette’s presentation has persuaded me that it is not the right thing to do,” he said.
Myles said he also was moved by the 5,000 student signatures the rec center had collected in support of the process.
“I think we have to listen when student’s voice what they want, and I can’t see anything wrong with what they want,” he said.
Other Regents were against the arena proposal from the beginning.
Regent Brewster Parker said, “I feel arenas are a thing of the past and have shown many failures in other communities. You (NIU) can’t even fill (the field house) for basketball. How are you going to fill an arena?
“I think it’s appropriate to listen to what the students have asked for,” he added.
Ebbesen said his intention wasn’t to ignore the students’ desires.
“My position, as a voting representative of this board, is that I want to cooperate with the students, but these funds (for the rec center addition) could be put to a much better use,” he said. “Don’t let The Northern Star say that Joe Ebbesen is putting athletics before students.
“Whether we like it or not, a lot of the image of an institution comes through athletics,” he added.
Student Regent John Butler agreed with Ebbesen’s “analysis of image,” but he said even if Ebbesen’s proposal was to be implemented, NIU’s physical education department would have first dibs at the field house.
La Tourette said he agreed.
A discussion also arose during the meeting about whether the student fee would be considered as part of or separate from the 4.5 percent cap the Regents placed on student fee increases for this year.
La Tourette said he considered the caps to be part of a new project (as opposed to an old project for which the cap was specifically implemented) and said he would not include it as part of the 4.5 percent cap when he makes his fees proposal to the Regents next semester.
Although they made no formal vote on the matter, there appeared to be some support for La Tourette’s proposal among the Regents.
La Tourette said he is not dismissing the idea of a sports arena. He said it is an investment the university could use and he would consider it and provide updated information to the Regents about it.