Thumbs-up: To the start of work on a $46 million modernization of the county’s largest wastewater treatment facility, operated by the Kishwaukee Water Reclamation District. Now that homes along Hollister Avenue in DeKalb have been demolished, the work to add new water purification systems and a new administration building at the water reclamation district property near Hopkins Park are underway. The property also will receive many other upgrades, including using biofuel to run a generator. Dirt excavated from the site will be used to build a sled hill at Hopkins Park. The entire project will take three years to complete and is being funded with a $53 million low-interest EPA loan. Here’s hoping this big public works project stays ahead of schedule and under budget.
Thumbs-down: To another year of enrollment declines at Northern Illinois University. The 10th-day enrollment at NIU this fall was counted at 18,042, down 5.1 percent from fall 2016. Enrollment has been consistently slipping at DeKalb County’s largest employer, which had an enrollment of 25,313 in 2006. The turmoil that has gripped Illinois’ state government the past few years has put the state’s institutions of higher learning at a disadvantage compared with out-of-state rivals, and Illinois is one of the largest exporters of college students. This is an problem not just for DeKalb County but for the state as a whole, as students are more likely not to return when they leave for college. Illinois has enough problems without adding a brain drain.
Thumbs-up: To signs of a turnaround in enrollment. This year’s freshman class of 1,852 at NIU was up 3 percent over last year’s, and student retention (the percentage of students who return from one year to the next) also was up, along with the number of doctoral students. For many years, colleges didn’t have to do a lot of marketing – they could sit back and let the students come to them. Today, the climate is more competitive; students – and their parents – want to see some proof that a degree will lead to career success. Although university officials predict the enrollment decline trend will continue at least another year, it could be that the numbers are close to bottoming out and the rebound already could be underway.
Thumbs-up: To local help with hurricane relief. An effort to take donated items to victims of Hurricane Harvey organized by Crossview Church, 150 Bethany Road in DeKalb, concluded Friday after collecting more than 30 tons of donated goods. Harvey caused more than 70 deaths and damaged or destroyed more than 250,000 houses in Texas. That’s left many people in need of essentials. We salute Blackhawk Moving and Storage, which donated the 53-foot trailer used to collect donations, CHS Elburn of Sycamore, which is covering travel expenses, and drivers Paul Radtke of Sycamore and Paul Ramm who are taking them to those in need. All those who donated items or volunteered their time to the effort deserve a thumbs-up, too.