Northern Illinois University

Northern Today

Patricia Perkins
Patricia Perkins


King Commons set for update this summer

April 6, 2009

by Joe King

Martin Luther King Commons, one of the main crossroads on campus, will undergo a major facelift this summer.

“It’s looking tired, in many ways,” said Patricia Perkins, who is overseeing the project for Finance and Facilities.

This is an encore for Perkins, who 20 years ago oversaw the conversion of the space from parking lot to plaza. That project was hailed as a major improvement, creating a grand public space in the heart of campus.

Over time, however, brutally cold winters and scorching summers have taken their toll. Paving bricks have cracked, sunken and heaved. Landscaping has grown out of proportion to the space. The storm drainage system also is in need of work, which was one of the primary motivators for the project.

“We knew we had to address the drainage issues, so the decision was made to improve the commons as a whole,” Perkins said.

While this summer’s work will not be as dramatic as when the plaza was created, the changes will be significant.

When completed the above ground improvements to the plaza will include:

  • More grass. The area devoted to pavers and concrete will be reduced significantly, replaced by more grass and flowerbeds. The circular shape of the plaza will be altered into more of a crescent shape that radiates westward from the Balance of Equality sculpture on the east end of the plaza.
  • New trees. A new stand of Aspens, which will provide some brilliant yellow and red color in the fall, will be planted, ringing Balance of Equality. Existing crabapple trees on the western edge of the plaza, which have grown too large for the space, will be removed. As many of those trees as possible will be transplanted elsewhere on campus.
  • Additional flowerbeds. New flowerbeds will be added near the bust of Martin Luther King Jr. and near the patio at the base of the Holmes Student Center tower.

“The basic layout of the commons will remain the same,” Perkins said. “We’re just trying to make it a little softer, a little greener and a little more inviting.”

The project will be a joint undertaking by the university and the Illinois Capital Development Board. The budget, approved by the NIU Board of Trustees at its March 26 meeting, is $525,000.

Work is scheduled to begin at the end of the spring semester and, weather permitting, completed by the resumption of classes in the fall. The commons will be fenced off during the work and pedestrians will need to find new routes during the summer.