Officials ‘casually’ talk expansion

By Jerry Lawrence

NIU’s Hoffman Estates Education Center is expecting a capacity enrollment next fall and the administration has started casual talks about expanding the center.

Judith Keeley, coordinator of program services at the center, said enrollment for next year’s fall semester will be close to 1,500 students. “It’s going to be really close to the maximum,” Keeley said.

The predicted enrollment figure is based on the increase in class offerings from this academic year’s fall semester to spring semester as well as predicted demand for those classes, Keeley said. She said the center uses an average class size of 25 in predicting future enrollment.

Keeley also said the overflow of students might be sent back to the original extension sites.

The center opened this fall as a $6 million consolidation of scattered satellite sites which offer off-campus courses in northwest suburban rented facilities.

Don Davidson, NIU assistant provost for Resource Planning, said two options have been discussed to remedy possible enrollment capacity problems.

One is to expand the hours available for credit classes and the other is to expand the facility itself.

Davidson said the center currently is open for credit classes Monday through Friday, 4 p.m. to 10 p.m.

“The only discussion in terms of adding space to the center I’ve been privy to is that of adding a wing (to the already existing building),” Davidson said. “I don’t foresee any ultimate need for that because it is premature at this point.”

Kathleen Gilmer, director of the Hoffman Estates Education Center, said the facility is capable of being expanded by 15,000 square feet. Gilmer said questions regarding a possible expansion of the Hoffman Estates facility due to capacity enrollment are premature.

“We’ll probably be close to capacity and we’re going to take a look and use our facility to its greatest capacity,” she said.

Gilmer also said because the Hoffman Estates Center has only been open for a few months her concentration has been on keeping the current classes a success.

However, if an addition is ever needed, Tom Maschmeir of Homart Development Corporation said the center was built to be somewhat modular so that it could be expanded more easily. He said if there was an expansion, it would most likely entail a west wing addition.

Homart is the realty company developing the Prairie Stone industrial complex in Hoffman Estates where the center is located.

Maschmeir also said that he did not know if the expansion capability would be utilized in the near future.

John Smarz, also with Homart, said discussions regarding the Hoffman Estates Center take place on a casual basis between high-level NIU administration officials and high-level Sears executives.

Sears, which donated some of the key resources for the development of NIU’s facility, owns the Prarie Stone development.

Smarz said because of this informality at the high-level, he believed it was possible that discussions were taking place regarding the expansion of the facility, but he hadn’t heard anything as of yet. Smarz is a member of the Property Owners Association that will approve any proposed expansion of the NIU facility.

Another concern of any expansion involves the Illinois Board of Higher Education’s Priority, Quality and Productivity initiative. The PQP streamlining process has recommended a reduction in off-campus education programs in education. The center offers a limited amount of education classes.

Carol Switzer, director of credit programming in the College of Continuing Education, said a decision regarding the offering of education classes at the center will not be made until after the Nov. 24 IBHE meeting, which will determine the course PQP follows.

Switzer said 955 students were enrolled for fall 1992 classes at the center according to an Oct. 24 class list.

She said last year there were 830 students enrolled for classes in the fall and 829 students enrolled for spring semester at the various satellite sites that were consolidated at the center.

The center has been controversial since the planning for its construction was first exposed by an article in The Daily Herald, a northwest suburban newspaper. The initial planning process had been veiled in secrecy before the article was printed.

Staunch protests followed from Roosevelt University, in neighboring Arlington Heights, which feared the new NIU extension site would cut into their enrollment. NIU President John La Tourette told the Chicago Tribune last September that the protests were based on a fear of a larger enterprise than what was actually being planned by NIU.