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Stevens Building remodel nears completion

October 4, 2017

A production nearly seven years in the making finally has its opening night in sight.

The Stevens Building is NIU’s home to the School of Theatre and Dance and the Department of Anthropology. The renovation project that was first approved for state funding in 2010 has taken a rather circuitous route. State budget-related shutdowns of Capital Development Board (CDB) projects twice halted construction after renovations began in 2014. The first shutdown, in July of 2015, lasted 15 months. The second, which happened this past July, lasted only a few weeks.

Aerial view of the Stevens remodel in Sept. 2017

The project will be completed in spring 2018, the 60th anniversary of the building, which opened in the fall of 1958.

“The upside of being out of the Stevens building for four years is that it allowed the faculty to lead students in addressing professional challenges,” said Alex Gelman, Director of the School of Theatre and Dance. “The downside is that in those four years we graduated an entire ‘generation’ of students who never got to study in the building.

“We will now have the ability to recruit and train students to study in a state-of-the-art facility to prepare them for current industry practices.”

The “new” Stevens Building will be 106,000 square feet, 55 percent larger than the original building. The state-funded project total is $23.7 million, which includes expenses related to the two shutdowns and restarts. The project meets requirements for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified construction.

Artist rendition of the Stevens remodel

New features include:

  • A 200-seat state-of-the-art black box theater venue for teaching and performances, providing students the most real-world experience for what they will encounter in professional settings after graduation.
  • A vastly expanded scene shop with direct access to the O’Connell Theatre so that sets can now be built, painted and transported in totality into and out of the theater space.
  • A 330-seat lecture hall which can easily be reconfigured into up to three smaller lecture spaces of 110 seats each.
  • New labs specially equipped for archaeology and biological anthropology.
  • A new multipurpose room for anthropology to use for teaching and student activities.
  • Installation of a new elevator.

Improvements to existing spaces include enhanced classroom and laboratory space, as well as a dedicated bone and artifact storage for anthropology. Five classrooms are now equipped with “smart” classroom technology, three for anthropology, two for theatre and dance. The theater and dance movement lab was increased into a more functional two-story space, and the Players Theater and the Corner Theater were both remodeled.

Additionally, all restroom facilities have been renovated, the accessibility has been dramatically improved and the building’s layout will provide for better departmental workflow.

“Moving from Grant Towers, a 70s-style dorm set-up on the fringes of campus, to a brand-new facility centrally located, will most certainly elevate what is already a world-class research and teaching program,” said Kendall Thu, chair of the Department of Anthropology. “Our students will have access to state-of-the-art labs and completely modernized classrooms to enhance their engaged learning experiences and ability to participate in research.”

“We are excited to showcase the new building to potential students, our alumni who have a strong affinity to our program and the Stevens Building, and to our existing and future faculty,” Thu added.

The CDB proposal process solicited submissions from artists to develop an anchor for a new sculpture garden as part of the Stevens Building renovation project. Artists were asked to submit proposals for a sculpture that incorporated concepts of theater, dance and anthropology to reflect the three academic areas housed in the building. Chicago-based artist Boyan Marinov’s sculpture, “The Tribesman, The Hero and The Light” was selected by the CDB and will be installed before the completion of the project.

After four years in exile, both the School of Theatre and Dance and the Department of Anthropology are anxious to begin the process of moving back into the Stevens Building. Each area has temporary offices in Grant Towers South. Theater and dance productions are currently being held at Huntley Middle School in DeKalb, and the Diversions Lounge in the Holmes Student Center.

For more on the Stevens Building renovation project visit: