With the start of the fall semester just days away, more than 4,000 students are moving into residence halls at Northern Illinois University this week, with nearly three quarters of that number arriving today.
“The start of every school year is always exciting, but I have to admit this year is more than a little bit special,” said NIU President Doug Baker, who himself is new to campus, having assumed leadership of the university July 1. “It has been a great six weeks getting to know faculty and staff, but students are the heart of this university, so I have been eagerly anticipating this day.”
Baker and his wife, Dana, were among a team of nearly 1,000 faculty, staff and student volunteers who greeted new arrivals Thursday. They used golf carts to quickly move belongings from parking lots, to residence halls, to rooms – often in as little as 30 minutes and undeterred by the rain.
As students get settled, they will notice a host of campus improvements, including a new outdoor recreation facility for intramural sports; a new indoor practice facility for Huskie athletic teams; and two completely remodeled residence halls. In addition to that work, the university also undertook a number of smaller campus improvements, including replacing several parking lots, upgrading lighting, painting buildings and enhancing landscaping.
“We are working hard to create the best possible living-and-learning environment as part of our focus on student career success,” said Baker, adding that some of the most important changes underway may not be quite as obvious to students.
“In addition to improving campus, we are taking an in-depth look at all of our academic programs looking for ways to ensure that upon graduation students leave here with the best possible technical skills, problem-solving abilities and communication skills,” Baker said.
As part of those efforts, NIU is looking for ways to increase hands-on learning, expand community involvement for students and boost opportunities for mentoring relationships between students and alumni. “Our location near Chicago and the suburbs and our enormous alumni base are tremendous resources that we plan to utilize to their fullest,” Baker said. “As exciting as it is to welcome students to campus for the first time, I am even more excited for what lies ahead.”
Here is a rundown of some of the major campus improvements awaiting students:
This year NIU reopens Gilbert Hall, which was decommissioned as a residence hall 18 years ago. Originally opened as the first men’s residence hall on campus, the building was a utilitarian structure for most of its life. The newly restored facility, which is available only to juniors and seniors, resembles a high-end hotel. Hallways boast barrel-vaulted ceilings, decorative lighting and hardwood floors. The building includes a fitness center and a Starbucks “grab and go” coffee shop, as well as a sit-down café. The cost of the remodeling work was $22.3 million, paid for using low-cost Build America Bonds.
Grant Hall D Tower was closed in 2011 and has undergone a substantial remodeling. Among the upgrades are rooms that are 60 percent larger than in the old floor plan, each with individualized temperature control. Rollaway beds and bolted-down desks have been replaced by modular furniture that can be arranged as students see fit. All mechanical systems in the building were also replaced and modern computer infrastructure was installed. The cost of the overhaul was $18 million, financed using low-cost Build America Bonds.
As part of its “Residential Renaissance,” NIU has now replaced or remodeled one-third of its residence hall space during the last four years.
The university will open its first-ever outdoor recreation complex this fall to serve the 5,600 students who participate in intramural and club sports each year. The 27-acre, lighted facility is located north of the Convocation Center. It includes natural turf and artificial turf fields that can accommodate multiple softball, rugby, flag football and lacrosse fields. They are even built for Frisbee and Quidditch competitions.
Located on the north end of Huskie Stadium, the 83,500-square-foot Chessick Practice Center houses a full-size, 120-yard artificial surface football practice field, a four-lane track and batting cages. A retractable center net will allow multi-sport use throughout the winter months. Built entirely using private gifts, including a $3 million leadership gift from the Chessicks, the facility is expected to open in October.