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NIU seeks $7.7M to remodel Cole Hall

Administrators at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb are hoping state lawmakers will approve an emergency appropriation of more than $7 million to help the school remodel the building where a former NIU student killed five people in February. NIU officials, including university President John Peters, met with members of Gov. Rod Blagojevich's staff and legislative leaders Wednesday in Springfield. Peters also sent an e-mail to students and staff Wednesday, outlining the school's plans for Cole Hall. Steven Kazmierczak, 27, entered Room 101 in Cole Hall shortly after 3 p.m. Feb. 14 and killed five students and injured 16 others before turning the gun on himself. The building has been closed since then. That room will be remodeled to support non-classroom activities, Peters said in the e-mail. Room 100 in Cole Hall will be renovated for continued use as a large lecture hall. This option, one of three possibilities for Cole Hall proposed by Peters in late April, also calls for interior areas to be given a different look and for an update of the building's facade. The other two proposed options involved renovating both classrooms either as large lecture halls or for non-classroom purposes. A new 400-seat auditorium in the center campus area, either connected to an existing building or built as a freestanding structure, will be constructed, according to the e-mail. About 12,000 students and more than 150 classes have been displaced as a result of Cole Hall's closure. Preliminary cost estimates for both the remodeling of Cole Hall and the construction of a 7,800-square-foot lecture hall to replace Room 101 is about $7.7 million, according to the e-mail. Renovating Cole Hall, which was built in 1968, is a switch from Feb. 27 when the governor called on state lawmakers to provide $40 million to the university so the building could be razed and replaced. Peters initially supported that plan, but rising opposition led him in March to ask for ideas from the campus community. Last week, he asked for input on the three options that focused on renovating Cole Hall. 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.

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