DeKALB – Darren Mitchell has been preparing for today for the past three months or so.
While some 700 NIU students settled into their new NIU campus digs Tuesday, about 4,000 more are expected to descend on the western part of DeKalb today, the official move-in day for on-campus NIU students. Many hundreds more will be moving into off-campus housing in the coming days in preparation for the first day of classes on Monday.
As Northern Illinois University's acting police chief, Mitchell's department will play a big part in making things as orderly as possible.
"[Tuesday] was like an appetizer; [today] is the main course," Mitchell said. "This one day is definitely the busiest day [of the year]. The only thing that would compare would be homecoming in terms of resources, man-hours and personnel with all the parents and students on campus."
Mitchell said move-in traffic will be funnelled into a route devised to keep disruptions to city traffic to a minimum.
"We try to close down only roads that are right on campus, so we don't affect day-to-day traffic for people who travel through DeKalb," Mitchell said. "We want to minimize that as much as possible. If you are a driver in town, and your'e not affiliated with move-in day, you shouldn't see any huge traffic delays because we have this down to a science now."
NIU police plan to route move-in traffic from the Annie Glidden exit on Interstate 88 north to Fairview Drive. From there, they will be directed west to Nelson Road. The parade of minivans, SUVs and cars then will trek north to Lincoln Highway for a short 1.3-mile trip east to the Convocation Center driveway where vehicles will move about campus in a variety of directions.
DeKalb Police Lt. Jim McDougal said his department's role in directing move-in traffic has been diminished because of NIU's planned route away from main streets, but he still expects the day to be much busier than normal.
"We want everybody to have a safe and comfortable time moving into DeKalb, so we will have extra patrols out there to help facilitate that," he said. "... With the influx of students, our calls typically go up."
A team of 45 NIU police officers and about 100 volunteers will do the directing and help answer parents' questions along the way. Additionally, NIU media relations specialist Joe King said 75 faculty-piloted golf carts will be on hand to help parents and students get from parking lots to dorm rooms, a process that King believes faculty and vounteers should be able to achieve in 30 minutes or less.
Move-in day may be hectic for school and city officials as well as DeKalb residents, but it's a day that area stores and businesses have been awaiting for months.
"We've been dying for [the students] to get here," Dean Prokos, co-owner of Tom & Jerry's on Lincoln Highway, said. "... It helps boost the economy a little bit – even getting people back to work. We definitely see the difference."
The DeKalb Chamber of Commerce plans to represent businesses like Prokos' at the Taste of Northern, an event that takes place tonight and brings together on- and off-campus restaurants, so that NIU students can sample the local fare. The Chamber is stuffing bags for the students with offers, maps and information from local businesses.
"Last year we had about 500 bags, and we went through them in about 25 minutes, so we bumped it up to 750," Chamber Executive Director Matt Duffy said. "It helps to make the transition easier for students and parents that are new to DeKalb."