NIU to renovate Cole Hall 2 years after shootings

Sunday marked the two-year anniversary of the shootings at Northern Illinois University that ended with five student deaths.

On Feb. 14, 2008 a shooter entered the university’s largest lecture hall, Cole Hall, and opened fire, which injured 19 students and killed five. Plans for the building where the shooting occurred have been finalized.

“Its hard to believe that it’s already two years,” said Brad Hoey, interim team leader for media relations at NIU.

Jared Steger, NIU alumnus, said he was supposed to have class in the same lecture hall the day the shooting occurred.

“It was like any other normal day until we heard the gunshots,” he said. “It was a pretty traumatic event.”

Steger said he knew one of the students who was killed in the tragedy.

“It’s just a horrible event, but the community and school has grown stronger and learned from it,” he added.

Cole Hall has not been used for any classes since the shooting, and the question of what to do with the building has been debated for the past two years. The original proposal was to demolish the hall, but the university recently decided to re-purpose the hall, which will be a complete renovation of the building. In the new plans, the original lecture hall will be split into two rooms, Hoey said.

The new plans for Cole Hall include a lecture hall that will be half the size of the original with the remaining space to be used for non-academic purposes, Hoey said. He could not elaborate on what the university would do with the remaining space.

“Soon after the tragedy of Feb. 14, 2008, we came to the realization that any comprehensive healing process on campus must incorporate efforts to re-purpose Cole Hall,” said John Peters, NIU President, in a press release.

Construction is scheduled to begin in the summer and Hoey said the university hopes the projects will be completed by fall 2011.

The university has faced “tremendous logistical problems” with the closure of the lecture hall, which forced larger classes to be “squeezed” into small spaces on the campus, according to a NIU press release.

Gov. Pat Quinn released $10.3 million for the project on Jan. 27, 2010, which will be used for the construction of Cole Hall and renovations to another building on the campus, the Stevens Building.

“It is difficult to overstate the impact that taking Cole Hall offline has had on the scheduling of classes around campus,” said NIU Provost Ray Alden in a press release. “We are delighted that these funds have been released, and we look forward to the day when our academic facilities are back at full strength.”

The Stevens Building, will have a new 400-seat lecture hall to make up for lost classroom space.

“Nobody thinks that something like this can happen on my campus,” Hoey said. “It’s been proven that it can.”