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Reopening of Cole Hall helps NIU move forward

The Cole Hall “Collaboratory” classroom seen Friday has six separate learning pods, each seating eight students.
The Cole Hall “Collaboratory” classroom seen Friday has six separate learning pods, each seating eight students.

It used to make Northern Illinois University student Samantha Puckett sad when she walked pass Cole Hall.

Puckett was on her way to a math recitation Feb. 14, 2008, when she heard that there had been a shooting at Cole Hall, which at the time was the most heavily-used lecture hall on campus. For a while after the shooting, the tragedy made her feel uncomfortable in larger, lecture-hall type classrooms, but she never considered transferring from NIU.

Four years later, Puckett is entering the spring semester of her senior year. Earlier this week, she walked past a renovated Cole Hall, which is slated to reopen Tuesday.

And when she looks at the building now, she feels more reflective than sad.

“It’s not the same building, and it’s not the same memory,” said Puckett, a Chicago native.

Cole Hall has not been used since the day of the shooting, when a former NIU graduate student walked into the East Auditorium and opened fire, killing five students and injuring more than 20 others before committing suicide.

The reopening of Cole Hall is symbolic of the university moving forward, NIU Provost Ray Alden said.

But it’s not the last chapter, he said.

“We see this as a prototype of future learning spaces,” he said. “We see this going forward because we have repurposed and renovated one building, and it points in the direction of courses and learning spaces in the future.”

With the renovation came the new Jameson Auditorium, a “Collaboratory” classroom and new features for the NIU Anthropology Museum.

The Collaboratory classroom includes separate learning pods that seat eight students each. The pods also have 65-inch high definition digital touch screens. Professors can use a larger screen at the front of the classroom that allows them to project and alter images from each pod.

The Jameson Auditorium has 351 pivoting chairs that allow students to participate in large lectures or small groups. High-definition TV monitors are also available for students who sit in the furthest rows of the auditorium.

The Anthropology Museum includes moveable walls, low-iron glass display cases, a 10-foot glass display case in the museum’s exterior wall and humidity and temperature controls to help preserve the museum’s 12,000 artifacts.

The total cost of the renovation came in just under $6 million and was funded through state money distributed through the Capital Development Board, NIU spokesman Paul Palian said. The construction project added about 1,000 square feet. Construction started in February 2011, and most of the building was completed by last month.

Alden said the renovations are a result of a collaborative effort across the campus community. He said 8,000 people responded to a survey on what they thought should be done with the building. Because the new classroom spaces have so much new technology, Alden said technical supervisors will be on hand to help during the first week if someone needs assistance.

“I think we have used the opportunity for best practices and even improved on some of those practices,” he said. “It’s an opportunity to really look forward to how classes should be offered in the future.”

NIU senior Chris Wolfe was happy to see that the building was renovated instead of razed, as was originally proposed.

“I think it looks nice. I’m glad the course of action the university took was based on student response,” he said. “I’m glad they listened to what the community had to say.”

Four years after the shooting, fewer and fewer current NIU students remember being on or near campus that day. The incident didn’t dissuade NIU junior Josh Kuthe of McHenry from attending NIU, even though he enrolled there after the shooting happened.

“The chance of it happening here is the same everywhere,” he said.

NIU junior Molly Parker of Woodstock said while she wasn’t attending NIU at the time of the shooting, she’s glad to see that the university is moving on and re-opening Cole Hall.

“Yeah, this happened, but it doesn’t define us,” she said. “We’re still a school. Yes, it was a tragedy, but it didn’t end things here.”

The 2008 shooting was fresher when students like Parker and Kuthe started attending NIU. Junior Jordyn Butler of McHenry thinks the newly-renovated Cole Hall will stir up some emotions.

But Nathan Agustin of Downers Grove, who transferred to NIU this semester, doesn’t have any memories of walking past the empty building. He said the incident didn’t cross his mind when he decided to transfer to NIU.

“I never thought about it at all,” he said. “It was one random student. I don’t really think that affected my decision.”

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