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ISU trustees to vote on financing for Mennonite School nursing lab

An artist rendering of the Mennonite College of Nursing Simulation Center.
Illinois State University
An artist rendering of the Mennonite College of Nursing Simulation Center.

Illinois State University staff is asking the board of trustees to approve up to $14 million in borrowing to help finance the new Mennonite School of Nursing Simulation Lab Building. Trustees meet Friday to take up that issue and a number of other proposals.

The certificates of participation for the construction project are similar to bonds and would carry annual debt payments of not more than $1.8 million over 10 years. The maximum interest rate would be 5%.

The total cost of the project, including general revenue funds to buy a currently privately-owned parking lot, a federal grant, and private gifts would be about $18 million. The new lab would connect to the existing modular lab on the north end of campus.

The trustees meeting starts at 9 a.m. Friday in the Old Main Room at the Bone Student Center; it is preceded by a discussion hour at 8 a.m.

Building rehab project

In documents prepared for trustees, ISU estimates the cost to rehab part of the former Lincoln College-Normal building at $5.2 million. The building would house about 40 people from the Office of Energy Management, and Facilities Operations & Management Services. That's on top of the $2 million ISU paid for the building on Raab Road last August.

The two buildings workers are in now are the John Green Food Service Building and the Carter Harris building. Those will be reconstructed to house ISU's new College of Engineering.

ISU staff said the $374/square foot cost to buy and renovate 60% (12,000 square feet) of the 20,000-square-foot defunct Lincoln College building is significantly lower than the cost to build a new facility, especially given high inflation construction cost trends, and an approaching July 2024 deadline to begin construction on the new College of Engineering.

If trustees approve future renovation of the remaining space in the Raab Road building, staff said it would help the university potentially relocate about 40 additional staff from other locations across campus, including Nelson Smith, Parking Services, and College Uptown Crossing. That could ease a space crunch in those buildings, said staff.

ISU staff also hope for state agency approval to lease a warehouse on East Bell Street in Bloomington to hold ISU equipment, supplies, and store its operations unit currently at the John Green Food Service Building to another suitable ISU warehouse location. The warehouse relocation project will cost an estimated $3.45 million, which ISU will pay from general revenue — though the university hopes to include that cost in future debt offering for the College of Engineering project.

Campus WI-Fi

Illinois State University has plans to improve its wireless network on and near campus. Trustees have been asked to approve the first half of the project to replace the current system dating back to 2014. ISU staff estimates the cost at $1.3 million over two years. More than 60 buildings would get faster, scalable, and more secure wireless signals.

The existing Wi-Fi network has seen a 67% increase in bandwidth consumed since 2015, according to staff. The number of devices connected also has soared to more than 40,000 at the same time during peak periods. That's an 18% increase in devices since 2015. The number grows each year as fewer people use wired connections on campus, said staff. The new network would last about seven years.

New physics degree offering

Trustees also are expected to approve a new graduate degree program in physics. Staff said ISU already offers a physics bachelor's degree in five separate sequences. It is one of the largest bachelor’s-only physics departments nationwide.

As Illinois State becomes a more comprehensive university that includes engineering and other STEM disciplines, physics has the opportunity to grow as a department, according to staff. The case for the master's degree also includes data that show demand for the degree is high.

Over the past few years, enrollment of some of the largest master's level physics degree conferring departments — with 15–20 graduates a year — in the country have increased by 4-5 times. The American Institute of Physics said the market for graduates is healthy. The majority of physics masters' graduates are either employed (39%) or enrolled in a Ph.D. program (47%) within one year after graduation (6% remained unemployed and 8% left the country).

The ISU program is expected to enroll up to 10 students each year, with a total enrollment of 20 students at steady state. It will require one additional tenure track faculty member to deliver the new program.

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WGLT Senior Reporter Charlie Schlenker has spent more than three award-winning decades in radio. He lives in Normal with his family.
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