Plans to demolish Cole Hall put on hold

March 4, 2008 4:10:47 PM PST
It now appears plans are on hold to demolish a lecture hall where a gunman shot and killed five students on the campus of Northern Illinois University last month. Governor Blagojevich pledged $40 million to raze Cole Hall and replace it with a new building. But that plan has been met with criticism from lawmakers and taxpayers.

The No. 1 criticism of the idea is the cost. The state budget is running a deficit and legislators ABC7 spoke to Tuesday say the money is simply not there. Also, there seems to be some backtracking going on, with the university president now saying that they haven't made a decision to demolish Cole Hall just yet, and a spokesperson for the governor saying that they will support whatever the university decides to do.

"We have to demolish that building and replace it with something fitting our needs as a memorial," said Dr. John Peters, NIU president.

"Today we're here to announce we will seek money to create a new building, a 40 million dollar appropriation," said Blagojevich.

That was last week, when Governor Blagojevich joined NIU President John Peters and local state legislators to announce that the site of the NIU massacre, Cole Hall, would be demolished, replaced with a new building on a different site. But in the days that followed, opposition from the very community NIU stands in started to pour in, and from the General Assembly itself. The money isn't there, says State Senator Kimberly Lightford, who also chairs the education committee.

"I would think we can use the money better...Instead of just knocking down a building to build another. I don't know that that addresses public safety concerns at all our universities. I don't know that that addresses mental health. Allows students more opportunities after graduation to obtain employment," said State Sen. Kimberly Lightford, (D) 4th District.

Furthermore, because this would be a special project, it would have to be funded through a long term state-loan called a bonding authorization that requires a supermajority of legislators to vote for it. Bonding authorizations are very rare and reserved for large billion dollar projects, such as a transportation bill.

"I think we have to take a real look at this and not always respond like the governor does in a way quite frankly that is media driven. In a way to make himself look good and take advantage of the tragedy," said State Rep. Jack Franks, (D) 63rd District.

In response to the criticism, a spokesperson for Governor Blagojevich said Tuesday:

"We stand by president peters and the university and will continue to support their decisions on how to move forward after the tragedy. If this is what they decide to do we will do what we can to secure funding at the state level.

And that is the key. NIU President John Peters said he'd like to see Cole Hall demolished but that decision has yet to be voted on by the university's board of trustees.

In an open letter to the university, President Peters now says that any decision will represent a consensus opinion by everyone on campus. And he said, "Any decision carries emotional and financial costs...we know all to well the fiscal constraints facing our state...I remain confident that our elected officials and the citizens of this state will step forward at the appropriate time to assist NIU in addressing our classroom space issues."