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NORMAL - Illinois State University is about to borrow nearly $50 million to improve how and where students live on campus.

On Friday, the ISU Board of Trustees authorized issuing bonds for improvements in its auxiliary facilities system - the campus' term for the buildings not used for academics.

The board's decision signals "an exciting move forward for the university," said ISU President Al Bowman.

The next five years will see a lot of activity, he said.

The total replacement value of ISU's auxiliary facilities - such as dorms, parking, food services and recreation space - is estimated to be $511 million. But, the university only can afford to tackle the updates a little at a time, said Bowman.

Now is a good time for issuing $47 million worth of bonds, board Chairman Carl Kasten said, citing attractive interest rates and ISU's positive financial ratings.

"There's a confluence of several factors that make it the right time," said Kasten.

The money should be available March 21, said Steve Bragg, ISU finance chief.

Projects to be covered include renovating dorms, building a parking garage, developing a site for a planned student recreation center and constructing new tennis courts. Following is an overview of projects on the list.

- ISU's long-range housing and dining plan will continue.

The next phase of the plan calls for east campus updates. Work should begin in fall 2007 with $25 million tagged to the Hewett-Manchester dorm complex. Vrooman Dining Center, which adjoins the two dorms, will close and be converted into a commons space.

The remaining $6 million will be used within the next five years to renovate the Watterson Towers commons area and its dining center. Some also will fund the razing of the Dunn, Barton and Walker complex in central campus, said Bragg.

The central campus site is one of the sites under consideration for a future student recreation center.

Tri-Towers renovations, which were paid for with a previous bond issue, should be complete by summer 2007. Plans to renovate the complex's Linkins Dining Center were delayed in January.

w Tennis court relocation would cost $1 million. The 12-court McCormick tennis court complex will be razed.

New courts will be put up on the Gregory Street property west of Adelaide Street. It represents one of the first new projects at what used to be the University Farm.

Campus officials announced earlier this year that the 240-acre space would be developed over the next 50 years and possibly alter what's considered the center of ISU's campus.

Tennis courts west of Adelaide Street will be far from central campus, but ISU Rebird Express shuttles will expand their routes to accommodate the move, said Bowman.

- A parking deck will cost $6 million. With the tennis courts gone, the site east of University Street near Dale Street will become a parking deck.

It's a good site because the opening of the College of Business building has increased traffic in that part of campus, said Bragg. It will add 400 to 500 spaces when it opens in about four years, he said.

- A student recreation center would be planned at a cost of $2 million. Using student fees to pay for the center was approved in a student referendum several years ago.

ISU students long have complained about the current center, saying the structure at Willow and Beech streets is too far from campus and too limited in its offerings.

However, the university was waiting for state appropriations to help fund the project, and that never happened, said Bragg.

"But this project won't disappear. It's a high priority for students."

The $2 million will allow design specialists and architects to work with ISU officials and student leaders to look at programming and layout options. The student government may need to revisit the scale of the project, however, said Bragg.

- Another $500,000 will fund a variety of other auxiliary facility updates. And ISU will use $6.5 million to help refund the 1996 bonds.

Also at the meeting, the board:

- Renewed the student health insurance contract. The current cost of $145 a semester will increase by about $13.

- Seated new trustee Betty Kinser; and recognized outgoing trustee Nancy Froelich, who had been on the board since its creation in 1996.

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