Created:Sunday, October 16, 2011 1:09 a.m.CDT
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NIU announces fundraising campaign for practice facility

By RYAN WOOD - rwood@shawmedia.com

DeKALB – They lined up against a Yordon Center conference room wall 45 minutes before Northern Illinois kicked off its homecoming football game against Western Michigan.

Some represented corporations. Others were there for themselves. Each of the "leadership donors" were part of separate, $100,000 donations to the university's efforts to build the Kenneth and Ellen Chessick Practice Facility, NIU's indoor athletic training center. NIU President John Peters and athletics director Jeff Compher announced Saturday $7.6 million of an estimated $9.5 million has been raised for the project.

"NIU is a family," Huskie football coach Dave Doeren said after his team's 51-22 win against the Broncos. "That's one of the reasons I came here, and they proved it with this facility. Even in these tough economic times, they needed to step up.

"They all talk about how they want this program to be, and in order to make it what they want – as far as a national program – we needed to have a national facility."

With the end financial mark in sight, NIU kicked off its public fundraising campaign during its 105th homecoming weekend.

Compher said the process has moved from being "more quiet" and "making sure we can get the campaign off the ground," individually meeting with potential large-gift donors, to having more open awareness. The project now is advertised on NIU's website, and the facility has its own Facebook and Twitter accounts.

"Now it becomes more of a show," Compher said. "Now it's all about getting more and more people involved. That's the big difference."

No date has been scheduled to break ground. Compher said he expects construction of the 83,500-square-foot facility to take 12-14 months.

Peters said the ground breaking won't commence until all funds have been received, but he was happy with how quickly the process developed.

"It came together faster than any fundraising campaign that I've witnessed," Peters said. "That's a character to our donors and our fan base who care deeply about NIU and about our student-athletes.

"This building will be built with private funds. This is not a building where state money can be used, even if there was any, which makes it all the more sweet I think."

The donor group included a $1.15 million gift from Jeffery and Kimbery Yordon to name the Jeffrey and Kimberly Yordon Huskie Pride Plaza, which will be the main entrance to the Chessick Practice Center on the east side of the building. Dennis and Stacey Barsema’s $1 million gift will name the “Hall of Champions” area connecting the Yordon and Chessick centers. The $7.6 million raised so far includes the $3 million naming gift from the Chessicks, announced in September.

Along with hard numbers, Compher also discussed the process of deciding what would be included with the indoor facility.

With Peters' approval, Compher said he began visiting nine or 10 indoor facilities across the Midwest in 2009, including the Bears, Notre Dame, Illinois, Northwestern, Iowa State and five fellow Mid-American Conference programs. When NIU played the Humanitarian Bowl in Boise, Idaho, in December, Compher and a team of campus planners and architects took detailed notes of Boise State's indoor center.

Their trips outlined needs. At Akron, they learned 65 feet is the lowest the roof can be in the center, enough height for punting. They also realized the importance of having as much outdoor light as possible to limit the glare of direct light. The facility, which will include a full artificial turf football field with and a four-lane sprint track, also will have a white roof for cooling and a retractable center net to allow multi-sport use.

The indoor facility will be built adjacent to the Yordon Center. Peters said it will be a natural fit.

"As we built the Yordon Center, our thoughts were toward this next project," Peters said. "So we understand the topography and the connections for steam tunnels and so forth on this footprint. That's really important in a project because the engineering stuff has already been thought through."

Compher has said all along this will be a facility for all sports. NIU baseball coach Ed Mathey, standing near the back during the news conference, said it's a possible game-changer for his program.

For Doeren, the same possibility exists, and he summed up what it means for NIU athletics.

"It's super exciting to be able to know that, no matter what, we're going to get a good-day's work in," Doeren said. "Even in fall camp, you never knew. That's hard, routine-wise for your guys. We're not allowed to work with them that many hours a day, so when you get those hours you've got to make them good ones.

"To have that, it's not just spring football. It's recruiting. It's every sport. It's going to be an unbelievable facility."

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