DeKALB – Northern Illinois University students can expect the sounds of hammering, sawing and trucks passing by when they return to campus next month.
NIU officials plan to spend about $3 million – twice as much as usual – on campus construction this summer, partially in hopes of making campus more comfortable for students, from adding a tram service to demolishing
Douglas Hall to extend Lucinda Avenue across campus. Only 66 percent of freshmen from the 2012-13 school year returned as sophomores in the 2013-14 academic year, numbers NIU officials want to improve.
“Cost will be more than offset by the feeling that students are welcome,” said Bill Nicklas, NIU vice president for public safety and community relations. “If it helps with retention, it more than easily offsets the costs.”
Some of the project stem from meetings in the Bold Futures workshops among NIU officials, community members and other stakeholders identified campus beautification as a priority to help NIU attract more students, Nicklas said. Other projects include upgrading aging electric infrastructure and improving energy efficiency.
About half of the construction expenditures are for projects formulated in the Bold Futures workshops, Nicklas said. Those include moving the bus terminal from the west to the east side of the Holmes Student Center, adding a bike path along Lucinda Avenue, redesigning the student center cul-de-sac, trimming trees, removing vegetation and upgrading lights.
“It’s just going to be a more pleasant place to walk through and gather,” Nicklas said.
Douglas Hall and Stevens Building
Perhaps the biggest planned project – the demolition of the five-story Douglas Hall – is just getting started. NIU’s Board of Trustees approved the $4.5 million plan in March to make Lucinda into the east-west thoroughfare throughout campus.
NIU officials had hoped to complete the demolition project by November, but Nicklas said the start of demolition has been delayed until October because state bodies had to review the project before it began. Crews currently are removing asbestos throughout the 51-year-old building. Demolition of the building will be done in stages rather than all at once.
After the demolition, crews will pave that portion of Lucinda using the remnants of the Douglas Hall building itself. Road work will be completed in spring or summer 2015, NIU spokesman Paul Palian said.
In addition, the rehabilitation of the Stevens Building, where theater students typically are found, is underway. The renovation is slated to include a new 200- to 400-seat auditorium with tiered seating and new teaching technology. The expected completion of the project is June 2016, according to a list of construction projects on NIU’s website.
University officials also are paving way for the Huskie Pup, an electronic tram service that will take small groups of students from the area around the recreation center to the area near the Holmes Student Center.
Construction crews are trying to use existing sidewalks for the tram service, and if all goes well, they plan to offer additional rides throughout campus, said Belinda Roller, NIU architect on the project.
A portion of the 10-foot sidewalk just west of the Martin Luther King Jr. Commons area will be widened to 18 feet to make room for the Huskie Pup, Roller said.
“It’s very lightweight. This is more like a large golf cart,” she said. “I anticipate the sidewalks should be fine. Our maintenance cars drive there all the time.”