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Don't rush to raze NIU's Cole Hall
Daily Herald Editorial Board
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Published: 2/28/2008 12:23 AM

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At first blush, we're sympathetic to the proposal announced Wednesday by Gov. Rod Blagojevich and Northern Illinois University President John Peters to raze Cole Hall, site of the horrific shootings earlier this month.

Left standing, the building always would be synonymous with grief, an awkward place certainly to conduct classes.

From that standpoint, it is easy to understand an emotional sentiment to replace the 40-year-old building with a modern multipurpose center of "smart classrooms" that would be named Memorial Hall.

As Geoff Alberti, one of the students in the geology class the day of the shooting, observed, "I personally would not have been comfortable returning to Cole 101 having witnessed the tragedy that occurred in that auditorium."

But all that said, there are many good reasons to slow down.

With the senseless tragedy still fresh on all our minds, it is difficult for anyone closely involved with NIU to think clearly right now. It's been less than two weeks since the awful event took place. In that short a time period, those affected are still recovering and going through the grieving process.

Rather than a specific piece of legislation right now making way for a new Memorial Hall, it would be better to include this as an option in an array of ideas that an NIU memorial committee could weigh and consider.

What are the survivors' wishes? What do the families want? What do the students and faculty and alumni think would be meaningful?

Indeed, at his news conference with Gov. Blagojevich Wednesday, Peters acknowledged that he had not run the idea by the victims' families. Only after the proposal was announced did he say he would call them to solicit their input on the project.

That seems a little backward to us. Rather than asking the families for their reactions once a proposal has been put in play, NIU should be starting by asking the families for their ideas.

Unfortunately, the rushed presentation of the project could lead the more cynical among us to wonder whether this proposal may be a subtle manipulation of the tragedy.

After all, Peters conceded that NIU officials considered Cole Hall to be outdated and that the university already had plans to replace it rather than renovate it.

And after all, Blagojevich's proposal calls for the legislature to authorize $40 million to raze and replace Cole Hall at a time when the state's financial picture is so horribly bleak that he has suggested it sell off assets such as the State Lottery to pay the bills. It's also at a time when Blagojevich knows it would be hard for any legislator to vote against NIU.

Don't rush. Take some time. Form a memorial committee. If the Memorial Hall idea makes the most sense, it'll still be there.