NIU will demolish, replace Cole Hall

Northern Illinois president John G. Peters is joined by Ill. Gov. Rod Blagojevich, left, and other officials as they announce plans to replace Cole Hall with a new classroom building to be named Memorial Hall during a news conference in DeKalb, Ill., on W Brian Kersey, The Associated Press

AP

Northern Illinois president John G. Peters is joined by Ill. Gov. Rod Blagojevich, left, and other officials as they announce plans to replace Cole Hall with a new classroom building to be named Memorial Hall during a news conference in DeKalb, Ill., on W Brian Kersey, The Associated Press

By The Associated Press

DEKALB, Ill. – The sprawling complex where a gunman killed five Northern Illinois University students in a lecture hall then committed suicide on the auditorium’s stage will be demolished and replaced, but the new structure will not stand on the site of the slayings.

“What I’ve heard from parents and students is that the site should be consecrated,” NIU president John Peters said Wednesday as the governor announced plans to seek $40 million in emergency state money to fund a replacement for Cole Hall.

Peters said a privately funded memorial of some sort – possibly a garden and sculptures – would instead occupy the land where the hall now stands, near the center of the 25,000-student campus.

He planned to seek input from victims’ families.

“The first thing I’m going to do is call those families. We’ve all become very close to them,” Peters said. “They want to stay close, especially with the memorial on the site of the Cole Hall footprint.”

Gov. Rod Blagojevich meanwhile called on lawmakers to approve his $40 million request as quickly as possible. He acknowledged concerns about state budget deficits make such spending difficult, but claimed the money could be found and possibly funded through long-term bonds.

“Cole Hall will be torn down, but what happened there will never be forgotten,” Blagojevich said.

Former NIU student Stephen Kazmierczak burst into one of Cole Hall’s auditoriums on Valentine’s Day, carrying at least four guns, and fired dozens of shots into a geology class, killing five and wounding 18 people before turning the gun on himself.

Still, students seemed torn about plans to destroy the building.

“Some people can’t stand to look at it, and others see it as a memorial as it is,” 19-year-old freshman Cassie Dodd said. “Personally, I think it should stay. It’s a part of us now.”

Junior Jessica Burnside disagreed.

“It’s a trophy of a tragic, destructive event,” said Burnside, 21. “Nobody wants to be reminded of it.”

At Virginia Tech, where student Seung-Hui Cho gunned down 32 people before killing himself, officials decided to turn the classroom space in Norris Hall into a peace center and interactive learning space. Laboratories, which couldn’t be relocated because of the risk of damaging expensive equipment, remain in use.

State Rep. Robert Pritchard said Wednesday he would take a lead role in pushing the emergency appropriations bills through the Illinois Legislature.

“We have been working around the clock to build from the ashes a phoenix that will be a tribute and will also be fitting for future generations,” the Republican from nearby Sycamore said.

Peters noted that with Cole Hall – one of NIU’s largest lecture complexes – closed since the Feb. 14 shootings, administrators have had to reassign thousands of students’ classes to other areas around campus.

That makes the completion of a new complex “an emergency” situation, he said.

Peters said Cole Hall could be demolished in late spring. Designing the new complex would take around nine months, he said, and it could be completed by 2010 with the funding.

The new complex likely would be about 40 percent larger than Cole Hall and include three large lecture halls with about 10 classrooms, computer rooms and an atrium, Peters said.

And, he said, while the new complex’s working title is Memorial Hall, naming it or some of its classrooms after the victims remains a possibility.