Photo provided by Northern Illinois University
Fay-Cooper Cole Hall continues to be a center of learning after the renovations transformed part of the building into an anthropology museum.

Second in a 6 Part Series
Northern Illinois University continues to move “forward together forward” after remodel

On February 14, 2008, Valentine’s Day, a shooter entered room 101 in Fay-Cooper Cole Hall at Northern Illinois University and opened fire. On that day, five NIU students lost their lives, and 21 others were injured. As horrific as that day was, the toll had just begun.

Within an hour of the shooting, the Vice President for Student Affairs completed the heartbreaking task of setting up a 24-hour hotline for anyone affected by the tragedy — faculty, staff, students, parents, and community members.

“Our number one priority was supporting the needs of our students and colleagues,” said Joe King, the associate director of Institutional Communications at NIU, in an email interview.

Within the next few weeks, tensions continued to run high. Many were immediately in favor of demolishing Cole Hall, but according to an article published only two months later, the consensus shifted. Instead of razing the building, the community decided to remodel because leaving the existing building standing would allow it to remain as a monument to the students who lost their lives.

After the idea of demolition was scrapped, three options were considered. The first option was to renovate both rooms 101 and 100 for use as lecture halls, and the second option was to remodel only room 101 for non-classroom activities while leaving room 100, the other auditorium, for use as a lecture hall. The third option was to renovate both room 101 and room 100 for non-classroom purposes.

“Somewhere along the way, the idea of changing the lecture hall where the shooting occurred into an anthropology museum was raised, and it took hold, at the root of the idea was a belief that a better understanding of human societies and cultures, which is the purpose of anthropology ultimately at its heart, prevents similar acts in the future.”

— Joe King, NIU Assoc. Director

Ultimately, the second option won out, and in January of 2012, Cole Hall opened its doors to students once more. Room 101 had been renovated to house the school’s Pick Museum of Anthropology as well as the Cole Hall Collaboratory Classroom featuring 48 computer stations, and room 100 next door became the 351-seat Jameson Auditorium. The total cost of the state-funded remodel came to $6 million.

While converting the space into an anthropology museum may seem strange at first, the basement of Cole Hall had already been used to store items from an existing museum on campus. But there were other reasons as well. “This choice allowed us to both preserve the building as a place of learning (which was very important to many) while transforming the space where the shooting took place into one which has a peaceful and significant function,” King said.

The museum offers over 12,000 artifacts and features movable walls that can be customized for changing exhibits, rigging on the ceiling that allows for the suspension of artifacts, and a 10.5 foot long glass display case cut into the museum’s exterior wall.

Photo provided by Northern Illinois University
Museum visitor views an exhibit in the Pick Museum of Anthropology at NIU.

While the first-floor museum gallery is open to the public, NIU’s anthropology museum also functions as a teaching museum. “This means the collection is accessible for faculty who are teaching, and we strive to include students in all aspects of our museum work — including exhibition curation and collections management — in order to provide hands-on training,” said Christy DeLair, the director of the Pick Museum of Anthropology in an email interview.

Long before the renovation of Cole Hall was complete, the school erected an 18-foot-tall sculpture called “Remembered” in the “Forward Together Forward” garden that the school created east of the building. Within a year, $120,000 had been donated toward the creation of both the garden and the sculpture. “Remembered” was designed by Bruce Niemi, a 1981 NIU alumni. Its twisted pieces of metal mimic flames as they reach towards the sky, while behind it stands a reflection wall consisting of five slabs of red marble, each inscribed with the name of a victim of the shooting, according to the university.

The garden derives its name from a line in the Huskies’ fight song that quickly became the motto of the NIU community as they banded together in the days following the shooting. However, NIU did not have to go through the tragedy alone. Students from the West Nickel Mines Amish School in Pennsylvania—who had also suffered a shooting in 2006—sent words of comfort, as well a watercolor titled “Happier Days” that shows children playing in a schoolyard. The painting was hung in the office of the school’s president, according to a report done by the university.

Photo provided by Northern Illinois University
Trees bloom outside of Fay-Cooper Cole Hall on NIU’s DeKalb campus, which now houses an anthropology museum.

NIU also received an influx of volunteers. Over 500 professional counselors came to help the school navigate the pain and confusion of the following days, and people from across the country sent comfort dogs to Northern Illinois University to help students transition back into classes when they returned on February 25. Hundreds more volunteers gathered together 50,000 donated cookies and assembled them into “welcome back” gift bags. “It is fitting that Fay-Cooper Cole Hall now stands as testament to this university’s resolve,” then-Provost Raymond Alden said in an article published when Cole Hall reopened, “a symbol of our vision for the future and a campus crown jewel.”

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For part 3 in this series click here