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NIU panel approves capital improvements

DeKALB – A committee of the Northern Illinois University Board of Trustees on Thursday approved $11.1 million in capital improvements aimed at improving energy efficiency on campus – but the school won’t have to pay a penny of the cost up front.

State legislation allows state universities and community colleges to negotiate contracts with vendors who pay all of the initial costs of the design and implementation of facility improvements, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Eddie Williams said, and NIU pays the vendor back through the savings from the energy efficiency.  

“It’s a great concept, using other people’s money to benefit from it,” Robert Boey, vice chairman of the Finance, Facilities and Operations Committee, said at the panel’s meeting Thursday morning.

“Any time we can get capital up front it’s a good thing,” board member Cherilyn Murer said.

Energy and operational savings are guaranteed by the contractor to be at least at the level to fund the project, including finance charges, for up to 20 years, according to supplemental information provided to the board. The contract’s terms dictates that payment starts at the completion of the work.

“We will not move into some agreement where we can’t document and substantiate what the savings are,” Williams said.

Risks are shifted from the university to the contractors, Williams said, and any savings beyond the amount promised to the vendors goes to NIU.

Since 1999, NIU already has paid for $33.5 million in improvements using this legislation, Associate Vice President for Finance and Facilities-Operations Robert Albanese said.

Once approved by the full board – which could happen at its Dec. 3 meeting – the university can select contractors to do the work.

Work is expected to start in February and be completed by December 2012, according to NIU officials.

Among the energy efficient projects slated to start in February are replacing doors and windows at Wirtz Hall, replacing air conditioning units in the campus’s TV studio, and upgrading lighting and ceilings at the Student Recreation Center.

But other projects – like installing ADA compliant sidewalks at the School of Nursing – are not energy efficient but can be done because the savings generated by the other projects allows the school to do projects that the university otherwise couldn’t fund, Albanese said.

“We try to throw in a few roofs we know need to be replaced and some ADA work we really aren’t funded to do, but because some of the other projects generate so much savings, we can” get them done, Albanese said.

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