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NIU approves $9.5M for Cole Hall renovations

DeKALB – A committee of the Northern Illinois University Board of Trustees on Thursday approved spending $9.5 million to remodel Cole Hall, the site of the 2008 campus shootings that left five students dead.

About $8 million of that will come from a statewide capital projects measure signed into law July 13 by Gov. Pat Quinn. The rest will come from various university sources, possibly including the student technology fee, NIU executive vice president for Business and Finance and Chief of Operations Eddie Williams said.

The Finance, Facilities and Operations Committee unanimously voted to remodel the building, which has two large lecture halls that used to serve as learning space for more than 10,000 students annually.

Cole Hall has not been used since Feb. 14, 2008, when a former NIU graduate student walked into the East Auditorium of the building and opened fire, killing five and injuring another 21 before committing suicide.

“Our faculty have been just superb in working miracles in providing educational venues for students as a substitute,” Williams said.

Approval of the project by the full board – which is scheduled to vote at its Sept. 17 meeting – will allow officials to select an architect and engineer so that the school can proceed once the state releases the funding, Williams said. When NIU will get the money is unknown.

“We are taking the aggressive stance of moving forward so we can have Cole Hall ready to go the day that funds are released,” Williams said.

Plans include changing the appearance of the West Auditorium, which will be used as classroom space, to a 400-seat facility with up-to-date technology. The East Auditorium, where the shooting took place, will become a non-classroom activity room and will undergo significant changes in appearance.

The lobby and building facade also will change so that the face of Cole Hall is completely different. A 400-seat auditorium will be built elsewhere on campus, either freestanding or connected to an existing building, to make up for the loss of the East Auditorium as educational space.

NIU President John Peters noted that the Cole Hall auditoriums were scheduled for major technical upgrades before February 2008, which would have been paid for out of the student technology fee.

Work has already begun on a memorial garden in honor of the deceased students. Five red granite markers, each 4.5 feet tall and 10 feet wide, have been arranged in a semicircle along a walkway near Cole Hall.

Each marker will have the name of one of the victims, as well as one of the words from the phrase “Forward, Together Forward,” a phrase pulled from the NIU Huskies fight song that galvanized the community in the weeks after the shooting.

The memorial is expected to cost about $150,000 and is being paid for with private donations.

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