The building where a gunman opened fire on students in a Northern Illinois University lecture hall, killing five people, hasn't been used since that day four years ago. But in another sign that the school is coming to terms with the tragedy, classes are scheduled to be held Tuesday inside Cole Hall.
The reopening of the red-bricked building, which comes after a state-funded $6 million renovation to install state-of-the-art computer equipment and lecture screens, was expected to be a low-key affair. No speeches, ribbon cuttings or ceremonies of any kind were planned. Still, NIU officials said the refashioned, modernized Cole Hall highlights one of the school's greatest strengths: its commitment to looking toward the future.
"It is a kind of a mark that NIU is moving forward," NIU spokesman Paul Palian said Monday. NIU Provost Ray Alden added that Cole Hall "now stands as testament to this university's resolve."
On Feb. 14, 2008, former NIU student Steven Kazmierczak stepped onto a lecture stage during a geology class in Cole Hall and began shooting, the word "Terrorist" scrawled across his T-Shirt. Five students were killed as others frantically dived behind their seats or ran for the front doors. The 27-year-old Kazmierczak turned the gun on himself before police arrived.
Immediately after the shootings that so haunted the DeKalb school, there was talk about tearing down the hall that was located at the heart of the sprawling, 25,000-student campus. Then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich traveled to NIU weeks after the shooting to announce the hall would be bulldozed and a $40 million building would be built in its place. Its name would be changed to Memorial Hall, he said.
But a consensus began to grow that the existing structure, with its existing name, should remain as a monument to those who died. State budgetary constraints also complicated efforts to come up with money for any more ambitious plan.
"The feeling was very strong that this building continue to serve and produce positive outcomes in terms of education ... to transform it into what it is today," Palian said.
The large, single lecture room where the attack took place has been divided into pods where students can use state-of-the-art computers to collaborate on projects. Much of the rest of the space will house an anthropology museum.
Classes will be taught in the other half of Cole Hall, which was and remains a lecture auditorium, though it is now specially fitted with high-bandwidth Wi-Fi, as well as with a high-definition lecture screen and television monitors.
The area should bear little resemblance to the room as it was on the day of the shootings.
After delays caused in part by budgetary wrangling among lawmakers, renovations on Cole Hall started a year ago. Until then, the building sat unused and closed -- its windows purposely darkened out.
While no commemorations were planned Tuesday, the newly renovated hall will hold an open house on Feb. 12. And as it has on every year since the attack, NIU also planned an on-campus service on Feb. 14 to remember the students who perished, Palian said.
The students killed that day were Gayle Dubowski, 20; Catalina Garcia, 20; Julianna Gehant, 32; Ryanne Mace, 19; and Daniel Parmenter, 20.
Feelings on campus are also not as raw as they were four years ago because most of the undergraduates now at NIU weren't attending the university at the time of the shooting, Palian said.
That, said Palian, may be one reason the reopening of Cole Hall is being taken in stride.
"Most of the students that were there on that day are gone now and have moved on," he said.