January, 27, 2010
DeKalb, Ill. – Officials at Northern Illinois University welcomed news from Gov. Pat Quinn Wednesday that he has released $10.3 million for construction projects. The money will be used to address two of the most pressing space issues on campus – repurposing Cole Hall and renovating the Stevens Building.
The funds were approved as part of the state’s capital spending appropriation passed in July 2009 – the first such bill in nearly a decade. The money became available from recent bond sales by the state.
Cole Hall has remained closed since Feb. 14, 2008, when a gunman opened fire on a geology class, killing five students and injuring 19 others. The Stevens Building, located just a few yards south of Cole Hall, is home to the university’s Department of Anthropology and its School of Theatre and Dance. The building has been deteriorating for decades and has been at or near the top of NIU’s capital request list for nearly 20 years.
“Soon after the tragedy of Feb. 14, 2008, we came to the realization that any comprehensive healing process on campus must incorporate efforts to repurpose Cole Hall. With today’s announcement we take great satisfaction in knowing that we are one step closer to reaching that goal,” NIU President John Peters said. “We are also pleased that, after so many years of hoping and dreaming, we can begin to address the deplorable state of the Stevens Building.”
Plans unveiled at a news conference held by university officials provided details about the Cole-Stevens Complex project.
The project utilizes a plan for Cole Hall that includes transforming one of the building’s 1960s-era lecture halls into a state-of-the art learning environment, while converting the auditorium where the shootings occurred to flexible, non-classroom space. The exterior of the building and all common areas also will get a facelift, and all of the major mechanical systems will be upgraded. The plan, unveiled in 2009, is in line with campus consensus for the future use of the facility, based on extensive feedback.
The lecture hall eliminated from Cole Hall will be replaced by a new venue, which will be attached to Stevens Building. Located at the far end of the north wing of the building it will be capable of hosting classes of 200 to 400 students and will boast the latest teaching technology. Money appropriated by the state for Cole Hall, includes construction of the new hall.
Incorporating the auditorium into the Stevens Building overhaul (for which the state appropriated nearly $22 million) will be far less expensive than creating a new freestanding building, officials said.
“We are delighted that the state is providing funds in a way that will allow us to coordinate these two projects,” Peters said. “From the outset we have been looking for a way to preserve classroom capacity on the central campus. This option makes sense logistically and financially.”
The university is eager to get the new lecture halls online. Cole Hall was home to two of the largest, most heavily utilized lecture halls on campus, and the loss of those facilities (as well as specialized classrooms and labs in the basement) has created tremendous logistical problems. Large lecture classes were squeezed into smaller spaces on campus, displacing medium-sized classes, which in turn displaced smaller classes, and so on.
“It is difficult to overstate the impact that taking Cole Hall offline has had on the scheduling of classes around campus,” Provost Ray Alden said. “We are delighted that these funds have been released, and we look forward to the day when our academic facilities are back at full strength.”
If state funding remains timely, the university should have crews working in Cole Hall by late summer 2010, with a target of reopening the new lecture hall for fall 2011. The timeline for the non-academic portions of the building will not be determined until the university finalizes plans for the space.
“We are examining a number of options, analyzing which best serves the long-term needs of the campus,” Peters said.
Similarly, no timeline was announced for the new lecture hall attached to Stevens, as the university is still devising plans for how to best incorporate it into the larger rehab project.
Rehabilitating the Stevens Building has been considered a priority on campus for nearly two decades. The building’s heating, cooling and ventilation systems are on the verge of failure; plumbing and electrical systems have become outdated; portions of the roof are beyond repair; portions of the building exterior are crumbling; and many of the classrooms, work spaces and other facilities within the structure are no longer adequate for their intended uses.
“Overhauling the Stevens Building will be a major undertaking, but it is exciting to know that we can begin planning in earnest to bring the quality of that facility up to a level that reflects the excellence of the programs it houses,” Peters said.
Joe King, NIU Office of Public Affairs