Photo provided by Wikimedia Commons
Students waited near Lee Hall for the convocation service after the 2007 shooting when President George W. Bush spoke.

Sixth in a 6 Part Series
Virginia Tech transforms shooting building into Center for Peace Studies

Some stories are harder to tell than others. Virginia Tech is one of those. Virginia Tech has a wealth of information due to their experience in an infamous school shooting but few people who will tell it.

We sent out emails to various employees of the school and people who had written books on the school shooting. Either the employees ignored our emails, or the authors told us to just “read the book.” One employee in the finance office said “no thanks” as an answer to assisting us in understanding their budget. So much is written on this topic that the employees are probably tired of answering questions. But we pursued because information about the impact of a shooting on the buildings has significance, and that story has not been told.

Unlike most of the Virginia Tech staff contacted, the school librarians were willing to assist in our search for budget information about costs related to their April 16, 2007 school shooting.

The shooting at the time in Blacksburg, Virginia was labeled the most devastating shooting in U.S. history. The school suffered a loss of 33 people (including the shooter, a VT student, who took his own life) and 17 others were injured, according to the university’s website.

The school was unaware at first that a shooter was present on campus after two lives were taken at West Ambler Johnston Hall, a residential building located at the heart of the campus, according to the university’s website. The shooting was thought to be a personal matter between the shooter and his alleged girlfriend and not school related, which gave the school and the police the notion that the gunman had fled the campus. Classes proceeded as usual. Within a couple of hours, the gunman was found to indeed be on campus where he barricaded himself in Norris Hall, one of the school’s academic buildings. He then proceeded to go room to room during the shooting, according to local media.

“Virginia Tech has a tremendous influence on the surrounding area,” former campus minister Charles Pugh said in a phone interview. “The impact of the shooting was like nothing that I had experienced before. The media descended upon the campus, about 450 outlets. There was a depressed mood that went throughout the entire community.”

Pugh worked at the school as the founder and director of a Bible fellowship group. He wrote a book about his experience following the shooting called “The Virginia Tech Tragedy and My Personal Tragedy: Lessons To Learn from an Insider and from Scripture.”

One of the lessons learned was how expensive renovating both West Ambler Johnston and Norris Hall, where the shootings took place, would be. Only the second floor of Norris Hall was renovated. The construction was handled by The Architects Alliance in 2009 who completely renovated the 6,753 square foot second floor of Norris Hall for roughly $1 million, according to local media.

Norris Hall’s Center for Engineering and Mechanics had its second floor transformed into the Center for Peace Studies.

“Norris Hall was the building where the majority of the shootings took place. They didn’t feel like they could have had classes in that building anymore, and I understood that,”

—Charles Pugh, former campus minister

Jerzy Nowak, husband of a victim, explained in an article on the university website: “Through the Center for Peace Studies and Violence Prevention, we hope to develop transdisciplinary programs that target prevention of violence through research, education and engagement. Relocation to Norris Hall has a symbolic character to the families and friends of the victims, to the survivors, Virginia Tech, the Blacksburg community, and the world.”

West Ambler Johnston Hall was completely remodeled at a cost of roughly $65 million, according to the university’s website. It was transformed into a residential hall. It now houses roughly 830 students, according to the university website.

In addition to the rough ticket price of both buildings was a $2 million cost for replacing door locks and handles in order that doors could not be barricaded again, according to a Washington Post article.

In remembrance of the shooting, the school on April 16, the 13th anniversary of the 32 lives lost, will light a ceremonial candle to commemorate the victims. The names of the victims will be read and the Corps of Cadets will stand guard for 32 minutes. The candle will remain lit for 24 hours.

On April 18, the school will hold a 3.2 mile run on the Virginia Tech campus followed by an inter faith service held in their War Memorial Chapel.

“On the one-year anniversary, I actually had the opportunity to go around the memorial,” Pugh said. “The students originally placed 33 stones to represent the people that died that day, including the shooter. The school only put 32 memorials instead of 33. I understand why they did that, I just think that we shouldn’t forget that there was another person. I think that if we learn from the shooter, then maybe we can prevent other shootings in the future.”

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