With hopes that it will reopen this fall, Cole Hall has been full of activity as the state-funded, $6 million remodeling project for the infamous Northern Illinois University building nears its halfway point.
Three years ago, five students were fatally shot and nearly two dozen were injured when a former student walked into Cole Hall and opened fire before turning the gun on himself. The large lecture hall near the center of the school's DeKalb campus sat empty and closed-off with its windows purposely darkened until construction began in mid-January.
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In 2009, the university erected a memorial near Cole Hall to the students killed: Catalina Garcia of Cicero, Gayle Dubowski of Carol Stream, Julianna Gehant of Mendota, Ryanne Mace of Carpentersville and Daniel Parmenter of Westchester.
A lot of discussion and input went into the "What to do with Cole Hall" question, and university officials say everyone appears to be on board with the plans. Most of the students who attend NIU now were not enrolled when the shootings occurred.
"This is a project that is very much looked forward to, and a project that's very much applauded," NIU spokesman Brad Hoey said.
"We're still memorializing the students ... but it's an opportunity to move forward," added NIU Vice Provost Dr. Earl Seaver. "It really represented an old way of doing things and teaching. It needed to be renovated."
The new Cole Hall will have a modern-looking brick and glass front, using repurposed bricks from the original facade. Replacing the two outdated and cramped lecture halls is one large, state-of-the-art lecture hall with more comfortable seating and high-definition overhead monitors. There also will be a larger space for the university's anthropology museum, so more of its artifacts can be put on display.
Cole Hall's unique feature will be its "collaborative learning pod classroom" a type of laboratory where students can work in small groups using high-definition touch-screen technology.
"Very few institutions have these types of laboratories," Hoey said. "Some of these materials are so new, we're going to have to test them out, and have someone come in and do training."
University officials are excited about the new space, one of several construction projects now going on at the campus, including a new 1,000-bed residence hall.
A full description of the plans, and photos, are at newnorthern.niu.edu.
Hoey said concrete was being poured outside Cole Hall last week, and they're hoping to have at least part of the building ready for use by the fall semester.
"This was something that was needed, and the fact that this facility has been offline for more than three years has made it difficult for our faculty, our staff and our students to make accommodations on other facilities," Hoey said. "For this to go back online, and go back online in a much more enhanced state, is extremely exciting."