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Impressive new digs opened at NIU

Chamo Capellan puts on the final touches in the food court area of the center building of the new residential complex Monday at Northern Illinois University.
Chamo Capellan puts on the final touches in the food court area of the center building of the new residential complex Monday at Northern Illinois University.

DeKALB – The new residence hall at Northern Illinois University comes with a construction price tag of $80 million. And from the looks of Monday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony, it looks as if the school spent every penny of it.

Unlike most of the dorm rooms on campus, the new hall consists of all single bedrooms. Each student shares a bathroom suite with another, and 12 of these single bedrooms would share a common space – or a “cluster” as NIU’s housing officials call it – that contains a study area, a small kitchen, and a flat screen, 55-inch TV.

Complex coordinator Connie Storey said the decision to make all of the new hall’s 1,008 rooms single bedrooms was a deliberate one.

“Everybody is always requesting single rooms and private bathrooms,” Storey said. “I think it’s more – for a lot of this generation, a lot of them didn’t have to share rooms and so a lot of people are very apprehensive about sharing rooms – keeping up with the times and what the students want.”

The still-unnamed hall is separated into a west and east hall. In the center hall, the residents can lay around in the new wireless lounge, complete with a fireplace.

Next to the wireless lounge is the recreation facility, stocked with new, Cybex-brand exercise machines. Residents will have exclusive access to this facility, although Storey mentioned that this restriction could be relaxed in the future. The new food court, however, will be open to all students.

It’s not cheap living in the new hall. With the cheapest meal plan, a student pays $6,482 a semester. Only the students who live by themselves in Stevenson Tower suites pay a couple of hundred dollars more than a new-hall student.

The new hall is just one part of NIU’s “residential renaissance” and “the embodiment” of the university’s larger Vision 2020 initiative, said NIU President John Peters to a large group of NIU officials, students, and other members of the community Monday.

In his speech, Peters acknowledged the challenge of building a new residence hall – the university’s first in 40 years – when the university, the state and the country as a whole are struggling financially.

“We did this because we recognized that we could hardly claim to be putting students first while expecting them to move into buildings that have scarcely changed since their parents, and in some cases, their grandparents had been enrolled here,” Peters said. “We had to move on that.”

The university also hinted at more upcoming construction projects in a flier they gave out to attendees, including construction at the Holmes Student Center, re-opening part of Gilbert Hall as a residence hall, as well as various parking projects

The general student population won’t move into the new hall until Aug. 23, but community advisers like Sam Rossi, a junior visual communications major, have been living in the hall since Sunday.

“I like new hall. I like how it’s set up, more in a cluster, and there’s a big room in the middle,” Rossi said. “Neptune there’s more hallways dividing people. So building communities will be easier and more convenient, especially with the TV.”

The CAs of the new hall will be able to brag about their new digs to their counterparts in other dorms. For one, it’s much bigger.

“People keep using the quote from the movie ‘Step Brothers’: ‘There’s so much room for activities,’ " Rossi said.

In addition to their own private bathroom, they also have a small living room separate from where their bed would be. Rossi said it’s a nice change from having distressed students coming in to sit on their beds.

“I don’t have a problem with it, but some people don’t like to sit on beds,” Rossi said.

But the layout will provide some challenges to CAs who want to foster a community. Each CA is in charge of two clusters, with the CA’s room being the only room connecting the two common spaces. Residents will have access to their own cluster, and by extension, their own floor. For instance, a resident in Cluster A cannot enter Cluster B unless someone invites them.

“Trying to bring them together will be very different, and it hasn’t been done on campus,” Rossi said. “This is new.”

Another CA, Anthony Brown, agreed that it could be challenging to get some students out of their single rooms. But Brown believes the rooms are small enough for students to not get too comfortable in them.

“They’re going to actually have to come out into the clusters and sit down in the lounges and socialize with other people,” Brown said. “It’s actually like a ‘design flaw’ that turned out pretty good.”

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