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Cole Hall to be demolished
By Jameel Naqvi and Emily Krone | Daily Herald Staff

Governor Rod Blagojevich and NIU President John Peters announced today that Cole Hall would be demolished and a new Memorial Hall built in its place.

 

Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

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Published: 2/27/2008 9:05 AM | Updated: 2/28/2008 12:45 AM

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Less than two weeks after the deadly rampage in Cole Hall, Northern Illinois University officials Wednesday announced plans to demolish the 40-year-old building and replace it with a state-of-the-art multipurpose building.

Gov. Rod Blagojevich called on state lawmakers to approve $40 million to raze and replace the building where a gunman opened fire on Valentine's Day.

The new building, in a nearby location, would be named Memorial Hall. A privately funded memorial to the victims would be built on the site.

Five students were killed and 16 more were wounded during an afternoon geology class in Cole Hall. The gunman also killed himself.

"For us to deliver on this, we need the legislature to act ... so we can build a new school building, Memorial Hall, for classes," Blagojevich said at a joint news conference with NIU officials in front of Cole Hall.

Preliminary plans include a building with "smart class-rooms," a computer lab, and three auditoriums seating 250 students each, NIU President John Peters said.

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"We're going to have a really good functional building for teaching and learning," Peters said.

Fay-Cooper Cole Hall, named after an early 19th-century anthropologist, is outdated and the university had already planned to replace it, Peters said.

"It's much more efficient to raze it … and build something we need," Peters said.

NIU officials already anticipate a spring 2009 groundbreaking and a December 2010 completion.

The university plans to call victims' families to solicit their input on the project, though that hadn't been done as of Wednesday.

Students who were in the class when the shooting occurred said they're glad the building is coming down -- and never again want to set foot in there.

"I, personally, would not have been comfortable returning to Cole 101 having witnessed the tragedy that occurred in that auditorium," said Geoff Alberti of Geneva. "I look forward to this demolition as part of the healing process."

Demolishing Cole Hall is the best choice for current and future students, said Patrick Korellis, who was shot in the neck and an arm.

"I do think in a way it will help because I wouldn't ever go back into Cole Hall itself, just because of the images of it and seeing the stage and the doors would bring back all the thoughts," said the 22-year-old from Lindenhurst.

Other students also felt anxious about using Cole.

"I don't think incoming students or any of us should have class in there," said Jason Beaumont, a sophomore from Palatine.

"After this, I personally could not go back in there," said Beaumont, who had a class in Cole last year.

Aaron Westbrook of Aurora had a class in Cole Hall that was supposed to begin about 20 minutes after the shooting took place.

"I wouldn't want a class in there," the freshman said. "It would just be awkward."

But a counselor who specializes in working with trauma victims said NIU's quick decision to level the building could hinder the healing process by preventing the community from confronting the trauma head-on.

"It might be a mistake to remove evidence of something so traumatic," said K.C. Conway, a social worker at the Center for Grief Recovery at Loyola University. "It is most important to have a place to visit that reminds you what happened was real, but it isn't the last thing. It's possible to transform even the most horrible things into something meaningful."

Conway cited the example of Virginia Tech, which plans to establish a Peace Studies and Violence Prevention program in the space where a gunman killed 31 students, including himself, in the deadliest shooting rampage in U.S. history.

A Virginia Tech task force, formed to determine the fate of the space, issued its recommendations in December, eight months after the shooting.

"There was a lot of discussion, as evidenced by the time and committee," said Virginia Tech spokesman Mark Owczarski.

The circumstances surrounding Cole Hall and Norris Hall at Virginia Tech are different, Owczarski said, because Norris was a state-of-the-art research facility holding millions of dollars' worth of technical laboratory equipment.

The NIU project's funding, with hundreds of other school building projects around the state waiting for aid for as long as six years, will hinge on whether lawmakers view tearing down Cole Hall as a priority.

State Sen. Bradley Burzynski and state Rep. Robert Pritchard plan to introduce legislation that would allow for a construction bonds sale to finance the project.