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NIU’s renewed Gilbert Hall readies for debut

Newell D. Gilbert Residence Hall for Men on Northern Illinois University's campus in DeKalb, as seen on July 10.
Newell D. Gilbert Residence Hall for Men on Northern Illinois University's campus in DeKalb, as seen on July 10.

DeKALB – After opening a brand new dormitory complex to new students last year, Northern Illinois University will take another step forward with its dormitory overhaul with the August re-opening of Gilbert Hall.

While the new residence hall – a place students and faculty refer to simply as “New Hall” – is marketed to new students, Gilbert Hall is tailored to NIU upperclassmen.

“We didn’t have a space specifically designed for upperclass students,” said Michael Stang, executive director of NIU’s Housing and Dining. “This adds another option.”

Gilbert Hall, which is on the east side of campus near the corner of Lucinda Avenue and Gilbert Drive, will have 280 beds in 142 rooms on three floors (excluding the first floor). The residents’ floors will have their own quiet lounge and open lounge. In addition, the first floor will feature a recreation facility and Starbucks.

“It’s really a state-of-the-art facility,” Stang said.

Opened in 1952 as a men-only residence hall, Gilbert Hall was closed in 1995 as a residence hall. In the 18 years since, it has housed a number of offices, including the Office of Support and Advocacy and the Office of Publications.

Stang noted that Gilbert Hall is close to a number of academic buildings that are destinations for students studying business, engineering and the performing arts.

“We’re trying to offer options for all of our students, and that was one of the areas we knew we needed to shore up,” Stang said.

Stang said Gilbert Hall is designed to have a more mature feel, which is something senior drawing major Sara Boehm would have appreciated when she first came to the university.

After two years at community college, Boehm enrolled at NIU in 2010 and stayed in Neptune North for a year. At 21, she said she felt disconnected from the other students on her floor.

“It was a great experience, but I wouldn’t do it for another whole year after that,” Boehm said. “I don’t think things were maintained as well, and I was significantly older than most of the girls on the floor. I was old enough and ready to move on.”

Gilbert Hall is the latest step in NIU’s “residential renaissance” – a multitiered campaign university officials are using to change the face of campus. Also included in the residential renaissance is the construction and opening of New Hall and the Chessick Practice Center, various parking projects, and the gradual renovation of Grant Towers.

“Technology has changed since these buildings were built,” NIU spokesman Paul Palian said. “Student needs have changed. To deliver a 21st century education, the university undertook the development of 21st century residence hall experience.”

In 2010, NIU sold $126 million in Build America Bonds to fund many of the projects involved in the university’s residential renewal. At the time, university officials estimated the cost of renovating Gilbert Hall at $22.3 million.

Build America Bonds allowed government entities to borrow money for capital projects at lower interest rates. The federal government also pledged to refund up to 35 percent of the interest paid on the bonds. They were included as a portion of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, a round of economic stimulus measures launched by President Barack Obama’s administration.

The university’s residential overhaul is just one part of NIU’s larger Vision 2020 initiative, a series of improvements designed to re-imagine NIU’s role and impact. The initiative was spearheaded by former President John Peters, and is being continued by current President Doug Baker.

Junior geology major Nicole Enerson stayed in Douglas Hall, which she described as having “no horror stories.” After briefly leaving NIU to go to community college, Enerson is back to finish her education. This time, she’s living in an apartment.

“I was in a relationship,” Enerson said. “The dorms didn’t really seem to be a good fit for what we’re trying to do. So we live just off of campus. ... It ended up being easier to cook our own food and buy our own groceries than with a meal plan.”

Unlike Boehm, Enerson said the residence halls did factor in her decision to enroll at NIU. She said her brother had a great time living in Douglas and Stevenson. She has only seen pictures of NIU’s new dorms, and she said students living there should count their blessings.

“They have it lucky,” Enerson said.

By the numbers

Gilbert Hall is a 280-bed residence hall offering single rooms, double rooms, and double-as-single rooms. Here is how much rooms on campus will cost a student per semester, assuming they take the most expensive dining plan.

2013-14 Room and board rates, per semester:

• Stevenson Towers: $7,365

• Gilbert Hall, double-as-single room: $7,322

• Stevenson Towers: suite-as-single without bathroom: $7,111

• New Hall, single room: $6,972*

• Neptune Hall, double-as-single room: $6,579

• Gilbert Hall, single room/Grant C & D Towers, single room/Stevenson Towers, single room: $6,534

• Stevenson Towers, suites with bathrooms: $6,336

• Stevenson Towers, suites without bathroom: $6,083

• Gilbert Hall, double room/Grant C & D Towers, double room/Stevenson Towers, double room : $5,895

• Douglas/Lincoln/Neptune Hall, double room: $5,337

*denotes that this is the 2012-13 rate. This is subject to change at a later date.

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