9.5.08

A TIME TO REBUILD. Cole Hall will remain in service, partially as lecture hall. Here is the statement from Northern Illinois president John Peters.

For nearly two months, we have sought your opinions and ideas through a variety of mechanisms: a confidential email box, open forums, small-group meetings, an online survey and many one-on-one conversations with students, faculty, staff, alumni, donors and families of those most affected by the events of February 14.

Two major themes emerged from this study, and those themes were consistent across all groups: First, you said you did not want to see Cole Hall demolished.

Many of you invoked the memories of those whom we lost, and asked that any renovation include a link to whatever permanent memorial is established nearby.

Second, a substantial number of you said you did not want to teach, work or attend classes in the auditorium where the shooting took place, and that efforts to make the building look different – both inside and out – would be much appreciated.

With those two themes firmly established, we probed further with an online survey that presented three possible options. More than 5,000 of you responded to that survey, with the majority favoring option #2, in which Cole Hall room 101 would be converted into non-classroom space. Option #2 also calls for Cole Hall room 100 to be updated in function and appearance, and for other interior areas to likewise be given a different look and feel. Finally, the preferred option includes plans to change the building fa├žade to update and substantially change the exterior appearance of the building.

Taking one 500-seat auditorium out of service requires us to replace that classroom space elsewhere on campus. More than 12,000 students had classes in Cole Hall this academic year, so the need to replace lost instructional space is very real.

Option #2 includes plans to construct a new 400-seat auditorium in the center campus area, either connected to an existing building or as a freestanding structure. Preliminary cost estimates for both the remodeling and renovation of Cole Hall and the construction of a new 7,800-square-foot auditorium/lecture hall to replace Cole Hall room 101 total about $7.7 million – substantially less than what we were anticipating with the complete demolition of Cole Hall and construction of a new classroom facility.

Our representatives support this option.

State Rep. Robert Pritchard, R-Hinckley, said he expects to introduce
legislation in the next week that would provide state funding for the proposal.

“It's obviously a very reasonable approach that has taken a lot of input from the university and the community,” Pritchard said during a phone interview Wednesday night. “It meets a lot of the concerns people have about tearing down a building every time there is some violence, yet is respectful toward students, faculty and families.”

Peters praised Blagojevich and other state officials for the support in the days following the shooting, but noted in his e-mail that lawmakers are grappling with how to pay for numerous priorities during tough fiscal times.

“That our request represents a strong consensus opinion from our campus community will be an important factor in legislative deliberations,” he wrote.

The NIU group was met “very graciously” by members of the governor's staff and legislative leaders, Pritchard said, but he noted that “no one is making firm commitments” right now.

“They were sympathetic, and we, as well as they, acknowledged that the budget process in Springfield is difficult and that they understand the emergency essence of our request,” Ken Zehnder, associate director of external affairs at NIU, said during a phone interview Wednesday night. “They are considering it.”

The university expects it to take at least two years to get the plans finalized and work completed, he added.

The Northern Star offered a semester-end interview with President Peters.
In spite of all this - we had a flood, we had a graffiti incident, we had the tragic day of February 14 – we’re having 2,500 undergraduates [and 1,000 graduate students] receiving their degree next week. That’s what we’re about and that’s a celebration. That’s the celebration of a lot of hard work, those people will have a quality collegiate degree and they're going to go out and do great things.
The balance of the interview is worth your attention.

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