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Cole Hall to stay; renovations being considered

Tearing down Cole Hall, the site of a deadly shooting in February at Northern Illinois University's DeKalb campus, is no longer an option, the school's president said this week. “In the early days of emotions and when we first asked for responses, most said, ‘Let's raze Cole Hall,'” NIU President John Peters said during a phone interview Tuesday. “It was an emotional reaction, and now that members of the NIU family have had more time to think constructively, the response is quite different.” Two strong opinions have emerged in the past two months from the more than 5,000 comments that were confidentially received by NIU officials, as well as thoughts and ideas shared during numerous open forums held for students and during discussions with victims' families. The majority of people didn't want to raze Cole Hall or use it in its present state, Peters said. Cole Hall is where former NIU student Steven Kazmierczak, 27, walked into Room 101 shortly after 3 p.m. Feb. 14 and killed five students and injured 16 others before turning the gun on himself. The building has been closed since then. What is on the table are major changes to the exterior and interior appearance. They could include renovating the two auditoriums in Cole Hall for either classroom or non-classroom purposes. Three options - renovating both auditoriums for use as lecture halls, remodeling Room 101 for non-classroom activities and renovating the other auditorium for continued use as a large lecture hall, or renovating both auditoriums to support non-classroom purposes - are being considered, Peters said. Those that require the remodeling of Room 101 for non-classroom activities would require the development of at least one additional large lecture hall to seat 300-400 students at an alternate campus site. An online survey of the three options is available until Friday for students and staff. Focusing on renovating Cole Hall, which was built in 1968, is a switch from Feb. 27 when Gov. Rod Blagojevich called on state lawmakers to provide $40 million to the university so NIU could raze and replace the building. Peters supported that plan. But rising opposition to the plan led Peters to send a campuswide e-mail in early March, seeking input from the NIU community, which resulted in thousands of responses, Peters said. “It was hard to categorize those responses, but we tried as best as we could to do so, and we found what we think are very definitive trends,” Peters said. Some concerns had as much to do with the need to talk about the tragedy as to give an opinion on Cole Hall, he added. “We have seen the university campus community band together, stand up and truly move forward,” said Eddie Williams, NIU's executive vice president. “I think this is an excellent process; people are involved and are giving their honest opinions.” About 12,000 students and more than 150 classes have been displaced as a result of the building's closure, Peters said, and the process will take about two years to complete after a final decision is made. No matter what its use, Cole Hall will be significantly renovated, Peters said, and the cost will be significantly less than that of the previously proposed $40 million plan to demolish the building. Representatives of campus groups aiding in the process will meet with Peters on Friday to discuss survey results. After an option is chosen, cost estimates will be developed and state officials will be contacted for support. “I feel that the campus community will create something that is appropriate and something we can all be proud of,” Williams said.

Cole Hall options All three possibilities include major changes to the exterior and interior appearance. The building includes two lecture halls: Room 100 and Room 101. Room 101 was the site of the Feb. 14 shooting. •Renovate both auditoriums for use as large lecture halls. This will include a significant change in appearance, feel and functionality. •Renovate Auditorium A, Room 100, for continued use as a large lecture hall. Remodel Auditorium B, Room 101, to support non-classroom activities. This option requires and includes the development of an additional large lecture hall to seat 300-400 students at an alternate campus site. •Renovate both auditoriums to support non-classroom purposes. This option requires and includes the development of two additional large lecture halls to seat 300-400 students at alternate campus sites.

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