DeKALB – As Northern Illinois University students moved about Cole Hall on Tuesday, Lesley Rigg admired the renovated space and said, “We took it back.”
“You take it back and make it what it’s meant for, what it’s always been,” said Rigg, a geography professor and associate dean of the university’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “We have it back now.”
The building reopened Tuesday – the first day of the spring semester – after being shuttered for nearly four years.
On Feb. 14, 2008, a former NIU student walked into Room 101 in Cole Hall shortly after 3 p.m. and opened fire, killing five students and injuring 21 others before turning the gun on himself. Students Gayle Dubowski, Catalina Garcia, Julianna Gehant, Ryanne Mace and Daniel Parmenter were killed during the shooting. In 2009, a memorial garden was created next to Cole Hall in their honor.
The 1960s-era building was given an extensive overhaul during a $6 million renovation that began almost a year ago. It is now equipped with a “collaboratory” classroom that features state-of-the-art technology, a lecture hall and an anthropology museum.
But there’s also the intangibles.
“There’s a positive feeling, I think, when you come in here,” Rigg said.
A lot of thought was put into the building’s details, Rigg said. She pointed out the benches along the windows were made from the same type of granite as the slabs used in the memorial garden, and the sidewalk from the east entrance of the building leads to the memorial area.
“The memorial is not in the building, but it’s a part of the building even though it’s outside,” she said.
“Cole Hall has been at the heart of the NIU community since it first opened its doors, and it is personally inspirational for me to know that this building now will foster learning for tens of thousands of 21st century students,” NIU President John Peters said in a news release from the school. “We believe the newly renovated Cole Hall embodies the Forward, Together Forward spirit that binds us all together.”
Most current students did not attend NIU when the shooting occurred, making Tuesday their first time in the building.
“People look at this building different than others,” senior Kayla Colwell said.
She said the building’s reopening may be more significant to those who were at NIU at the time of the shooting, but she did say the building felt a bit different.
“You think about the people that died,” freshman Joe Tackes said. “It’s really sad. But now that it’s open, you’re kind of moving on. It’s a new experience.”
Junior transfer student Jake Glawe said he wasn’t aware the building had been closed since the shooting.
“I don’t really have any feelings toward it, I guess. I just have to come here for class,” he said.
Freshman Brett Tudela said classes being offered in Cole Hall is a “big deal.”
Tudela’s brother, Ryne, was an NIU student when the shooting occurred, and Brett Tudela remembers his older brother telling him to turn on the TV when news of the shooting broke.
Tudela was glad when he heard NIU was moving forward with renovations and updating the lecture hall. After the initial buzz, the building will become “another part of normal student life,” he said.
Rigg said Cole Hall will be a space that thousands of students have a connection to because it houses large lecture classes and is centrally located on campus.
“This is a space that almost every student will move through during their time on campus,” she said. “... And this was missing. Now it’s back, and it feels really good to have it back.”