Graduate center funds released

By Mark McGowan

People in support of a building—an NIU graduate studies center in Rockford—breathed easier during semester break when Gov. Jim Edgar finally released seed money for the project.

The Dec. 23, 1991, release comes after three years of legislation and an 11-month freeze. The bill for the funds had bounced around the state legislature since the fall of 1989, when former Gov. James Thompson released the $500,000. Days later, Edgar froze the funds.

Word of the release was welcome news to the center’s supporters, who were holding their breath for the plan’s survival in tough economic times.

“It came as a total surprise,” said Tom Montiegel, vice president of Development and University Relations. Montiegel said NIU officials were “constantly” worried the funds would be cut during Edgar’s review.

So far, no timetable is set. “This is a capitol development board project, and they’ll set the time schedule,” he said.

The December announcement was a relief to NIU officials. “It had dragged on so long,” Montiegel said. “We would have loved to see (money for) Faraday (II) released, also.”

Rockford leaders also were relieved by the news.

“It’s been a long time coming,” said state Rep. E.J. “Zeke” Giorgi, D-Rockford, a co-sponsor of the bill to get the center. “When times are tough, naturally you think of cutting back.”

Giorgi said NIU classrooms are scattered across Rockford, and the new center, planned for the city’s expanding far east side, will bring them all under one roof. “There was enough activity for this type of structure,” he said.

The news also was a relief for Tref Harnois, president of the Rockford Chamber of Commerce, a longtime backer of the center. “It’s great news. We tried to yield whatever influence we could. We’ll continue to stand in support and will work with NIU in whatever way we can,” Harnois said.

“Certainly there was a great deal of concern,” he said. “We’re pleased the governor has persevered.”

Rockford architect firm Pedriana Gustafson will handle the design. However, Montiegel said he doubts construction money will be available until 1994.