Taking a walk through the eastern and central parts of campus can be a bit tricky these days as those areas are abuzz with more than a dozen projects designed to dramatically improve the appearance of campus.
The importance of the work goes far beyond improving “curb appeal,” however. Each project was specifically selected for its potential to enhance student recruitment and retention. Not coincidentally, most of the work is located in some of the highest trafficked areas on campus, often along or near designated tour routes for prospective and incoming students and their families.
“A great university needs great public spaces,” says President Doug Baker. “We need more places that are not only beautiful, but inviting. Places where faculty, students and staff want to hang out, meet and interact. Places that enhance our sense of community – we think this work will set us on that path.”
Each of the projects relates to the Campus RE:ENVISIONED initiative, which emerged from a series of meetings last winter and spring that included input from some of the top urban and campus planners from across the nation. After touring NIU and speaking with students, faculty, staff and alumni, those experts developed a list of projects aimed at revitalizing the central core of campus. The ideas developed in those sessions range from proposals that would dramatically overhaul the Holmes Student Center entrance and Martin Luther King Commons, to cleaning up and restoring some forgotten gems around campus.
The cumulative impact of the work promises to be significant. Here is a rundown of projects underway:
Several projects will focus on the area around the Holmes Student Center, which planners envision taking on an increasingly important role as the hub of campus life.
- Holmes Student Center Transit Plaza – The central campus Huskie Bus terminus is moving to the east side of the Student Center which will provide students with a much more comfortable waiting area during cold weather.
- Holmes Student Center Eastern Entryway/Carrol Avenue – The cul-de-sac on the west side of the building will be redesigned to better accommodate pedestrians and bicyclists and to funnel them toward the Neptune courtyard and new Huskie Tram stop. The center island landscaping will be improved and the area will be seal coated and striped to better reflect the changing nature of that area.
- Holmes Student Center Alumni Plaza – Located on the northeast corner of the building, this plaza is one of the forgotten gems. Work is already under way to open up the plaza by removing some vegetation and trimming trees. Additionally, the fountain and the paving around it have been repaired. Work to come includes creating a parking area for bicycles, a campus gateway and a welcome center.
- Lucinda bikeway – The bike parking area in the Alumni Plaza will help meet the needs of increased bike traffic resulting from the creation of a two-lane bike path within the sidewalk on the south side of Lucinda Avenue from Annie Glidden Road to Normal Road. The lanes, marked with pavement painting, will remove cyclists from the roadway and clearly delineate pathways for cyclists and pedestrians. To accommodate the path, some portions of the sidewalk will need to be widened.
Another one of the key elements framing the Martin Luther King Commons, the library will be better utilized as a focal point to help define that campus crossroads.
- Founders Library Exterior Improvements – The three primary vertical elements on the north face of Founders Library will be enlivened with enhanced lighting and artwork. Limestone on the perimeter of the library is also undergoing a thorough cleaning to bring out its natural beauty.
- Founders Library Sunken Terrace – Located at the northeast corner of the library, this area will undergo a significant overhaul to make it more attractive and inviting. Work will include drainage improvements, paving repairs, tree trimming, landscape upgrades and improved ADA access to the space. Lighting in the plaza also will be upgraded.
The symbolic heart of campus, the King Commons will be refreshed and better defined.
- Campus core lighting upgrades – To help the King Commons become a great public space that feels safe, warm and welcoming at night, new controlled/diffused lighting will be installed to illuminate the facades of Founders Memorial Library, the Holmes Student Center and Swen Parson Hall. Doing so will brighten the area and better define the commons after dark.
- MLK Commons Upgrade – Landscaping improvements will include clean-up, tree trimming and removal of select trees. The Balance of Equality Structure will be cleaned and lighting will be repaired.
- Davis Terrace Upgrades – Another of the hidden gems on campus, the courtyard on the east side of Davis Hall will be upgraded. Shrubs will be trimmed or replaced to make the space more visible and to enhance views of the lagoon. Landscaping also will be updated. Fountains will be cleaned and repaired, as will the surrounding concrete paving. New tables and chairs also will be added.
- Watson-Reavis Patio Upgrades – This shaded courtyard, bounded by Watson, Reavis, DuSable and Zulauff Halls is not-so-affectionately known as “The Hippo Pond.” It will be significantly upgraded with work including repair and replacement of sidewalks, new lighting, landscape clean up including selective shrub and tree removal. A modest Japanese-style rock garden will be introduced in the center of the patio to provide a new focal point.
- East Lagoon recreation upgrades – A boat launch area for canoes and kayaks will be incorporated into the historical bench-fireplace area on the southwest corner of the lagoon. Several metered parking spaces will also be created in the adjoining lot to accommodate boaters.
- Still Hall Courtyard Update – The area bordered by Still Hall, McMurray Hall and Altgeld Hall will be spruced up with landscape improvements and tree trimming.
- Orientation Route Upgrades – The badly deteriorated walkway on the south side of Williston Hall was removed and upgraded to remove stairs. New lighting was also installed and the landscaping along the path is being upgraded.