NIU's first new dorms in 44 years -- snazzy!
The last time Northern Illinois University opened new dormitories, state Treasurer Adlai Stevenson III spoke at the 1967 dedication ceremony, as the dorms were named after his father, the former senator and presidential candidate.
The student newspaper still referred to female students as "coeds." Male students were worrying about changes in the draft law.
Thursday students moved into New Residence Halls East and West, the first since the Stevenson towers were finished in 1968.
Students have changed, and so have their wants and needs for the dorms in which they live.
"We're in love with it," said sophomore Barbie Podraza of Lake in the Hills, a tour guide on move-in day. She and friends Jennalyn Hernaez of Addison and Ashley Kooiker of Hanover Park proudly pointed out all the things that make it better than their previous halls.
"I think this is heaven compared to Lincoln," said Kooiker of the bathrooms, which are shared by just two students — not 40, like she dealt with last year. Each student has his or her own sink and medicine cabinet and own bedroom, and each suite has a washer and dryer.
The suites are in a 12-person "cluster" that has a common area with a two-microwave kitchenette, tables, and a 55-inch flat-panel television set.
The women especially liked the security: You need a passcard to get in the building, the card and a four-digit code to get into the cluster, then a key to enter your bedroom area.
The system proved a bit daunting at first to freshman Santino Chiappetta of Hinsdale. With a half-dozen Huskie Helpers, his resident adviser, his mom, his dad, a brother and two sisters waiting, he tried to get into the cluster using just his passcode. When told he needed the 4-digit code, he said he hadn't received one. A few minutes later, it was determined he had — in the paperwork he received on entering, which he had stuck inside a wastebasket he was moving into his room.
"Did you get the bathroom code?" teased his father, Gary, as they saw the bedroom suite. "There is a code for the toilet."
"I think it is pretty nice. It is bigger than I expected," Santino said.
"It's night and day," Gary Chiappetta said, describing the difference from when he lived in Grant Towers 30 years ago to his son's accommodations.
They hadn't been to the community hall, which houses the dining hall and a fitness center with treadmills and weight machines.
Hernaez raved about the extended hours of the dining operation. Last year, it was difficult to spend her weekly allotment on the food plan she purchased, due to the hall's limited hours. They would end up buying lots of snack foods to take back to their rooms, so they wouldn't "lose" their allotment.
"We're trying to eat really healthy this year," Podraza said.
"I feel it is going to be easier," Kooiker said. Ethnic, vegan and vegetarian options are offered. Nutritional information can be looked up online, and menus are posted on the university's mobile phone app.
The $80 million New Residence Halls belong to American Campus Communities and Collegiate Housing Foundation; the land belongs to NIU, and NIU manages the halls. The university is buying the buildings on a 30-year lease-to-own contract. They will house 1,000 students.
The changes in the dorms' amenities came about in part from a survey of students several years ago, said Paul Palian, the university's media and publications director. Enhanced security was one of the top issues. And single rooms was another.
"Kids today want more privacy," he said.
It cost $7,282 per semester to live in New Residence, if you have the most-expensive Titanium meal plan. The cheapest dorm room on campus, with the same plan, are triple-occupancies, at $5,117. The most expensive? A single person living in a suite built for two, with its own bathroom, at $7,567. There is also a new all-you-care-to-eat meal plan available.
NIU is also renovating its oldest current dorm, Gilbert Hall, built in 1951.
New dorms are under construction or have opened at the University of Illinois, Western Illinois University and Illinois State University in the last few years. They are replacing buildings constructed to accommodate the post-World War II flood of students brought to campuses by the benefits of the G.I. Bill.
"So we are all in the same boat," Palian pointed out.
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