The Northern Almanac Ep. 23 - 'Building with State Bonds'

Jul 9, 2020


Welcome to The Northern Almanac, a WNIJ living history project coinciding with NIU's 125th anniversary.


Nothing is quite as exciting as the history of a state bond, but there is one key state bond that helped shape the future of NIU for years to come. Between 1950 and the mid-1960s, NIU grew from 2,000 to over 18,000 students, and that included just the first round of baby boomers. This unprecedented growth required a larger faculty and administration, but it also required a larger infrastructure. And to build that infrastructure, the school needed money.


And that’s when the state stepped in. 


In 1960, Illinois presented voters with a massive state bond of $195 million to fund higher education. NIU and its sister institutions lobbied hard for passage: one PR stunt involved a long-distance relay, with student runners starting in Carbondale and ending up in Chicago. Daily media coverage of the run brought attention to campus needs.


The referendum passed and NIU received $15 million. It used the money to construct several new buildings and two new wings for the library. Most of the buildings added much-needed classroom and office space, and included many of the buildings students are familiar with today: Watson, Faraday, Graham, Wirtz, Cole, DuSable, Reavis, Zulauf and Lowden halls. 


This new construction also allowed NIU to demolish the campus barracks that had been housing students and classrooms since the end of World War II.


During this same period, NIU issued its own self-liquidating bonds to construct residence halls (Lincoln, Douglas, Grant and Stevenson), the Holmes Student Center, the Chick Evans Field House, and Huskie Stadium.


As former President William Monat pointed out, “The campus community must have viewed this period as a single extended construction project.”