As crews begin transforming the southern side of the Holmes Student Center next week, the bust of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. will be temporarily removed from the commons that bear the name of the American Civil Rights leader.
When completed, the concrete wall between the existing south entrance and the hotel tower will be replaced by a glass-enclosed winter garden that will allow visitors to enter the building on the ground level. There they will find a sun-splashed lounge, a fully licensed Starbucks coffee shop and the main entrance to the new Huskie Books and Gear.
To make way for that entrance, the area south of the building will need to be regraded and reconfigured. Rather than keeping the bust in the midst of the construction zone, it will be temporarily relocated to a warehouse for safekeeping, far from jackhammers and heavy equipment.
“The bust of Dr. King is an iconic part of campus history, and we didn’t want to risk seeing it damaged,” said Belinda Roller, director of Architectural and Engineering Services, who is overseeing the Holmes Student Center Project. “It is our goal that it will return to the commons as soon as possible,” she added. The bust has been on display in the commons since 1993, the year it was donated to the university by sculptor Peter Fagan.
When it returns, however, it will have to move to a new location. Plans currently call for the bust to be relocated to a spot about 75 feet west of its current location but still within the commons area and adjacent to the new south entrance being created. That plan is currently being reviewed by students representing the Black Student Union and the campus chapter of the NAACP.
“We want to be sure that the new location is comparable to the existing space – that it remains impactful and continues to serve as a place where people can gather and exercise their right to free speech,” said Shavon Harden, a senior majoring in communication studies, who serves as president of the NIU Chapter of the NAACP. “Dr. King continues to inspire many students at NIU, and the presence of this bust motivates us to work toward creating a more inclusive community on our campus and in the world.”
Roller says that the proposed location was selected with such concerns in mind, but she added that student input will be considered before selecting a final home for the statue.
The work on the new entrance to the Holmes Student Center pushes the $20 million remodeling of that building into the limelight for the first time. For the last 10 months, the majority of the work has taken place indoors, preparing the lower level for a complete revamp.
The new southern entrance will more closely tie activities inside the student center to life outside of the building. The “winter garden” will create a space where students, faculty and staff can meet, relax and will serve as a gateway to new amenities. When reopened late next fall, the remodeled space will include an NIU-branded sports bar and grill, a nationally franchised Tex-Mex restaurant, a Starbucks and an NIU-branded convenience store. It also will become a nexus for student organizations and leaders, with collaborative work spaces that will encourage greater cooperation. The Huskie Den will return and will include a new stage suitable for hosting small musical performances and other events.