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Master plan for NIU campus being developed

DeKALB – Jack Barry wants to help bring a more lively atmosphere to Northern Illinois University’s campus.

Barry, president of the NIU Student Association, said university President Doug Baker has included the Student Association since the start of talks about the university’s master plan thesis, an exploration of ideas NIU leaders have developed to improve the university and its relationship with the city of DeKalb.

The Student Association will display blueprints for some of those ideas for students to observe from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. March 18 to 30 at the Holmes Student Center, 340 Carroll Ave, DeKalb.

“The Baker administration is going to try things,” Barry said. “I like his aggressive attitude on acting fast, trying to improve student life today.”

The goal of the master plan thesis is to make improvements now and lay the groundwork for the future, with an eye toward not only attracting students, but keeping them enrolled. One-third of students who entered NIU as freshmen last school year did not return as sophomores, NIU officials say.

Campus leaders, students and the city of DeKalb also met for five days in January to ask how NIU can better support student career success, another key university goal.

What the university has come up with so far has been bold.

Some ideas include making NIU a 10-minute walking campus, identifying a campus spine or center, beautifying and accentuating campus waterways, adding bus lanes on Lucinda Avenue, upgrading sidewalks and lighting along College Avenue to designate it as a connection to downtown DeKalb, hosting concerts at the East Lagoon and demolishing old dormitories.

There are multiple ideas and timeframes from which the university is working. Some of the ideas may be implemented this fall, including a pilot program to add an electronic tram service that would take students around campus while riding on both sidewalks and streets. Other ideas could be implemented anywhere from five years from now to 50 years from now.

Bill Nicklas, NIU’s vice president of public safety and community relations, is one of the leaders involved in drafting a plan.

He said there is a meeting today with Veolia Transportation, the company that provides NIU’s bus services, about a planned pilot program to add electronic tram vehicles to campus.

“The tram would run through the heart of campus and will demonstrate an appeal of a more people-friendly conveyance from the west to east end of campus,” Nicklas said.

Leaders will present their ideas to NIU’s Board of Trustees on March 27 to see how trustees want them to proceed with the plan, Nicklas said.

Ron Walters, a part-time consultant whom Baker hired shortly after he became NIU’s president, has helped formulate ideas for the master plan thesis.

A cold January day on campus led Walters to think of ideas such as having warming stations at transit stops, closing Normal Street to vehicle traffic and revising the bus drop-off pattern.

“This is changing people’s thinking,” Walters said. “When you think about a plan, you think long-term, but you can also think about the campus as a stage for an upcoming production.”

The master plan thesis was formed after DeKalb approved its City Center plan and talked about partnerships with the university, Nicklas said.

The last time NIU came up with a master plan was in the 1980s, and this marks the first serious conceptual planning effort since, NIU spokesman Paul Palian said.

Palian said it’s encouraging that the university and city are acting in concert.

“There’s a collaborative effort,” he said. “That hasn’t always been the case.”

Under consideration

University leaders listed nine ideas, some of which could potentially be implemented as soon as fall 2014. 

1. 2,018 trees on campus

2. Food truck Friday

3. Tents and container kiosks along the heart or spine of campus

4. Jazz alleys

5. The Huskie tram pilot program

6. Student offices at Holmes Student Center for 30 days at the start of each fall

7. Community gardens on campus

8. Ice skating, concerts and receptions on East Lagoon

9. Upgraded College Avenue trees and lighting

Source: Re: Inventing NIU

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