Contact: Melanie Magara, NIU Office of Public Affairs
October 22, 2007
DeKalb, Ill. — Northern Illinois University’s School of Theatre and Dance and the Department of Anthropology attract award-winning scholars and brilliant students from around the world. Some of the alumni rise to the pinnacles of their fields.
Yet their success comes despite the appalling condition of the building that houses those programs, and some administrators say it’s becoming difficult to recruit new faculty and students and to protect those already here from being wooed away by universities with nicer facilities.
The 67,000-square-foot Stevens Building’s critical needs, including mold and a leaky roof, have placed it atop NIU’s list of capital improvement projects for the last decade.
NIU officials and students joined the governor’s office today in spotlighting the urgency of $20.8 million in state capital improvement project funds that would renovate and repair the Stevens Building.
Jan Grimes, executive director of the Illinois Capital Development Board, represented Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich at the event. Blagojevich has recommended the Stevens Building project to state lawmakers whose approval would release those dollars to NIU.
“We’re encouraged to see the governor recognizes the need for necessary capital improvements at NIU and universities across the state,” NIU President John Peters said. “Renovation of the Stevens Building has long been a priority at NIU, and we’ve worked diligently to make it a top priority in Springfield as well.”
Opened in 1959, the Stevens Building has walls spotted with mold and water stains.
Rain drips from the ceilings. Old heating units are exposed, some occasionally spewing steam and water. Boards replace some missing windows. Students lug laptops to a cramped computer lab situated in an old janitor’s closet, where a few must sit on the floor. Theatre and Dance staff need to run water from an old sink in that “lab” often enough to prevent the pipes from drying out and sewer gas from backing up.
“Anyone who has spent any time in this building realizes how dire the needs are,” NIU Provost Raymond Alden III said. “We are not talking about cosmetic improvements but legitimate health and safety issues. To maintain the strength of our visual and performing arts program and our anthropology program, these problems must be addressed.”
“We’ve been coping to the extent that we can. There are certain things we can’t cope with,” said Harold Kafer, the dean of NIU College of Visual and Performing Arts who declared renovation of the Stevens Building his non-negotiable top priority upon arrival in 1995.
“We can’t cope with an ongoing mold problem, for instance. We remove it when it grows, but that’s an ongoing battle,” Kafer added. “We can’t cope with the fact that the building is not handicapped-accessible. We can’t cope with heating-ventilation-air conditioning systems that don’t work properly and are so noisy they can’t be run during a performance. We can’t cope with the fact that when we have dance performances in the O’Connell that we have to bring in portable heaters for the stage area so the dancers don’t injure themselves.”
Christopher McCord, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, said the Stevens Building desperately needs this overhaul to help meet NIU’s enrollment and employment goals.
“We strive to be an institution of first choice for students and faculty, and we must be able to offer them appropriate space and facilities to learn and work in,” McCord said. “Our anthropology department is a very distinguished program and a real asset to the university. The discoveries of its faculty have been featured in the likes of the Chicago Tribune, National Geographic and the New York Times. We need to have an appropriate learning and teaching environment for them.”
The scope of the Stevens Building project would include the addition of 18,000 square feet for a scenery shop and associates space and the addition of 10,500 square feet for the Black Box Theatre.
Renovation of all existing spaces, including the O’Connell Theatre and the Anthropology Museum, would include:
Department chairs who share the Stevens Building eagerly await the dollars that would breathe new life into the dilapidated space. Professors are working in offices with no heat. Heating systems have exploded, spewing hot steam and water across rooms.
“I think it makes it difficult to recruit faculty,” said Judy Ledgerwood, chair of Anthropology and a faculty associate with NIU’s Center for Southeast Asian Studies. “We have excellent faculty. They have external funding, NSF funding, etc., and then they have to work in these conditions. It would be very easy for other universities to look at our best faculty and conclude that the facility issues here make it easier for them to steal our best faculty away.”
“The building is not ADA compliant,” added Alex Gelman, director of the School of Theatre and Dance. “When Theatre and Dance patrons come to see a production, people in wheelchairs have to actually go to the main lobby and pick up their tickets, then exit the building, go up a hill and enter directly into one of our three theaters.”
Repair of the building also is crucial to continued recruitment of top students. Buildings such as the Stevens Building, constructed during a rapid expansion of higher education in the 1950s and 1960s, have reached the stage where they require renovation to extend their life spans.
“The nature of higher education has changed as well,” McCord said. “Student needs are different and expectations for faculty have changed. We need not only to refurbish these buildings but also to modernize them in order to provide a 21st century learning environment.”
“It would mean that not only is the building brought up to modern standards, both in terms of health and safety and in terms of functionality,” Kafer added, “but it also means that many students – especially undergraduates – who choose to go elsewhere because the facility is so bad, even though they’re attracted by the strength our faculty, will make the decision to come to Northern.”
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