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Bold idea moves forward: NIU to extend Lucinda west

March 27, 2014

LucindaThe Board of Trustees of Northern Illinois University approved a motion by a 7-1 vote to extend Lucinda Avenue west to better facilitate access for students, faculty, staff and visitors to campus activities, facilities and amenities. The move, which requires the dismantling of Douglas Hall, is the first significant step in re-envisioning the NIU campus to inspire and enable student career success.

“The board made an important decision today to formally begin activity that will no doubt be part of its longer-term facility planning. Hopefully the message to the campus is clear that the board supports the investment of time and thought that has gone into the bold futures initiative,” said Board of Trustees Chair John Butler, who called his time living on the second floor of Douglas Hall’s D wing during the 1988-9 school year one of the most exciting times of his life. “It’s easy to learn the conclusions that have emerged from thoughtful and insightful planning to address our challenges and see that NIU is a vibrant and exciting place. It’s important, however, to also be willing to commit resources to begin the realization of those plans, but that’s what it means to be ‘bold.’”

According to documents from the March 27 board meeting, the Lucinda Avenue extension is a “high priority project for the university.” The goal is for the process to be completed this fall by mid-November.

“We’re excited about the extension of Lucinda so that we will be more easily able to link the east and west sides of campus. We think that will allow students, faculty and staff greater access to the Convocation Center and the recreation fields and also allow easier access for those who park and then transit into the core of campus,” said NIU President Doug Baker. “We’re looking into a new, electric bus system that can be integrated into that which will allow more rapid access into campus and have a greener footprint than the diesel buses. We think it will really beautify campus as well.”

“A Great Main Street – Lucinda” is one of the “Eight Bold Ideas for the Future” expressed in the recent 2014 Master Plan Thesis presentation to the university on display in the Holmes Student Center through March 28. The objective to improve the student experience by creating a 10-minute, walkable campus will be realized with an enhanced Lucinda Avenue that extends to Stadium Drive West. Consideration for pedestrian walks, bike paths, Huskie Bus lanes and a bisecting, tree-lined throughway will be part of the design efforts in the months ahead.

Lucinda2It is envisioned that the implementation of this initiative will minimize car traffic through campus and provide a safer and more efficient transit, especially for those students living in residence halls.

The extension of Lucinda Avenue will require the removal of Douglas Hall, an older residence hall which is not a candidate for renovation or adaptive reuse. Douglas was constructed in a decade of dramatic student enrollment and while it has served the university’s students well for 51 years, its usefulness has passed. Not only are there many existing deficiencies in the envelope of the structure but the absence of elevators, air conditioning and appropriate technology does not present Douglas Hall as a proper 21st century housing option to offer prospective and enrolled students.

“With the addition of New Hall and Gilbert Hall, students have begun moving away from Douglas Hall as a viable or suitable housing choice,” said Eric Weldy, vice president for Student Affairs and Enrollment Management. “Students desire affordable and flexible housing options with access to modern amenities. By eliminating Douglas and the associated maintenance costs, resources can now be redirected toward other residence halls that will help us to reach our student career success goals.”

Strategic consultant Ron Walters called the master plan a “win-win-win-win” situation for the university, the city, developers and students, noting every design change would also enhance safety. “At every stage of this, there is student internship opportunity,” he added.

The $4.5 million project would utilize institutional local funds. NIU Vice President Bill Nicklas told the board that as Douglas Hall is dismantled, the concrete would be ground up to re-use in the pavement of the new roadway. Clay from the west campus would be utilized to fill the void left by the removal of the building before the street is extended to create a more vibrant space.

“I think it’s a worthy project,” said Vice Chair Marc Strauss. “Obviously, a lot of thought went into this on behalf of all of the people at the university who are responsible for the construction portion and dealing with the housing policy questions as well. I wish we had more time to consider some of the questions that I raised, but I do understand the imperative of wanting to get it finished and the importance of the project.”

With the board’s approval, work will begin immediately to select the appropriate engineering consultants, advertise and receive bids for construction, execute all appropriate contracts, and to issue any and all work orders as necessary to complete the Lucinda Avenue extension.