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NIU plans to demolish Cole Hall

The site of an attack at Northern Illinois University will be demolished and replaced with a new classroom building, Gov. Rod Blagojevich's office announced Wednesday morning. Classes haven't been held at Cole Hall since the afternoon of Feb. 14, the day former NIU student Steven Kazmierczak, 27, walked into a lecture hall in the building and opened fire, killing five students and injuring another 16 people before turning the gun on himself. Administrators announced shortly after the shooting that Cole Hall would not reopen this academic year. Blagojevich will be joined by NIU President John Peters, as well as NIU Student Association President Jarvis Purnell, state Sen. Brad Burzynski, R-Clare, and state Rep. Robert Pritchard, R-Hinckley, at a news conference at 1 p.m. Wednesday in front of Cole Hall. Demolition could begin as early as late spring, with construction slated to begin June 2009, NIU spokeswoman Melanie Magara said Wednesday morning. Students could occupy the new facility by December 2010 if construction can stay on the initial schedule, Magara said. There are no estimates so far on costs, she said. Peters decided shortly after the Feb. 14 shooting that demolishing Cole Hall was the right course of action, Magara said. The concept for the new building is both to memorialize students who died and to offer modern accommodations for students that were not available at the 40-year-old lecture hall, Magara said. Efforts to decide on the plan for a new facility were completed Tuesday. “It's nice to have some good news this week,” Magara said. Burzynski said there are several steps state lawmakers need to take to get the funding for the facility. A supplemental appropriation measure, which will include the money just for the new NIU building, will have to be introduced and approved by both chambers of the General Assembly, Burzynski said. A second bill will have to be passed to release that funding, he added. “I really believe it is something that should receive the approval of the General Assembly,” Burzynski said during a phone interview Wednesday morning. “We haven't seen this kind of tragedy on one of our campuses. There is a need, and I think with the support of the governor we will be able to move this forward.” Burzynski and Pritchard will be the likely sponsors of the measure in their respective chambers, Pritchard said. Many students have said they don't want to return to that building, which means the university needs more classroom space, Pritchard said, noting that numerous classes had to be moved after the shooting. Cole Hall, which was built in 1968, also has structural and mechanical issues, Pritchard said. Given the emotions attached to Cole Hall because of the shooting, the academic hall will no longer be a facility that can promote or provide a focus on learning, he said. “Just looking at all the different factors, this seems like the right solution,” Pritchard added. “The legislative body has been very supportive and sympathetic to the situation that happened at Northern,” Pritchard said. “This type of situation is extraordinary.” Reporter Benji Feldheim can be reached at bfeldheim@daily-chronicle.com. City Editor Kate Schott can be reached at kschott@daily-chronicle.com.

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