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NIU ready to move forward with Cole Hall

DeKALB – Northern Illinois University is ready to begin the next chapter of Cole Hall’s history.

The NIU Board of Trustees voted 7-0 Thursday to spend $9.5 million on renovations to the building, which was the location of the February 2008 shooting that left five students dead. Board member Myron Siegel was absent.

About $7.8 million 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, such as the student technology fee. The building had been scheduled to undergo renovations to include better technology before the shooting, NIU President John Peters said.

Cole Hall has two large lecture halls that used to serve as learning space for more than 10,000 students annually. It 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.

While the state has said it will provide the money, lawmakers haven’t said when it will be released to NIU.

“We’re working on it daily,” Peters said after Thursday’s meeting when asked if he had any idea when the university would get the money.

Other projects included in the capital projects measure – there are hundreds throughout the state – also haven’t heard when funding will come through, Peters said. The problem is finding the revenue for the projects, he said. Some of the revenue lawmakers had hoped to generate – including through video gambling – likely won’t be as much as expected, he said.

“I’m not sure how high we are on the list,” Peters said. “The governor has been very supportive of it, as have other lawmakers.”

Thursday’s approval will allow officials to select an architect and engineer so that the school can proceed once the state releases the funding, according to NIU officials.

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.

Where that freestanding facility will be built is unknown, but Peters said it will not be connected to Cole Hall.

“The placement is yet to be decided,” he said. “It won’t be part of Cole Hall. There’s no room. We have several spots [we are considering] where it could go that are near Cole Hall.”

Once construction starts, renovation will take at least a year and possibly up to 18 months, NIU executive vice president for Business and Finance and Chief of Operations Eddie Williams said in response to a question from board member Cherilyn Murer.

Doing the renovations in phases would increase costs, Williams said in response to another question.

“We think the best approach is to turn it over to contractors, finish the job, then it’s done,” he said. “We don’t want to have hazards of people being in areas of construction.”

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