LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) _ Like a pep rally before the big game, backers of Peru State College waved banners and roared with applause in support of keeping the state's oldest college in its namesake hometown.

More than 450 people packed inside the East Chamber of the state Capitol Jan. 22 to kick off a lobbying push against a plan to move the campus from Peru to nearby Nebraska City.

Many of them considered the effort a matter of survival for Peru.

``You might as well drop a bomb in the middle of Peru if you move that college. Without it, Peru stands to lose everything,'' said Bill Dean, 49, a longtime resident of Peru who also works in Nebraska City.

Dean was surrounded by neighbors and college alumni _ all wearing yellow buttons that said ``Leave PSC in Peru.''

Peru is already struggling. Its population declined from 1,110 in 1990 to 935 in 1996, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. And nearly 20 percent of the population of Nemaha County, where Peru is located, is over 65. So whatever happens to Peru will affect its older citizens.

``Without the college, the older members of our community would lose a library, access to computers and have to pay more in taxes,'' Peru Mayor Dick Stich said. ``But worst of all, they'd lose a lot of fire protection. Most of our fire and rescue squads are manned by students from the college.''

Many businesses in Peru and nearby Auburn closed for the day to allow residents to attend the rally and meet with lawmakers. Four busloads of supporters made the trip from Peru.

The Legislature is expected to vote this session on the plan to relocate the 130-year-old college. The State College Board of Trustees approved the proposal as an alternative to spending $21 million to renovate the aging campus.

A new campus would cost an estimated $35 million, but proponents say the college would have more potential for growth in Nebraska City, a city of about 7,000 that is 15 miles closer to Omaha.

State Sen. Floyd Vrtiska told the crowd he would do everything in his power to keep the college in Peru.

Vrtiska outlined a bill he introduced that would increase the state cigarette tax from 34 cents to 39 cents per pack, with more than $13 million of the additional revenue used for renovations at the college.

The senator also presented a petition with 2,000 signatures against the move. The crowd's applause could be heard throughout the building.

``There is nothing as powerful as a bad idea. And that's why we're here _ to stop a bad idea,'' said Dwight Wininger, a lobbyist for the Peru State Foundation.

Wininger coached the crowd on what to tell lawmakers, laying out arguments against the move including the cost differential between renovation and relocation.

Andy Tynan, a student-body representative to the State College Board, told the crowd that he saw Peru State as ``the Harvard of the Midwest'' and said that proponents of the move were trying to fix something that was not broken.