Colleges take security seriously in design, architect says

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by Catherine Guiles
March 11, 2008

As Northern Illinois University mulls its options for a memorial of the Feb. 14 shooting deaths of five students, security concerns have become more pressing for campus planners.

“More and more campuses are developing responses, usually a hardware kind of response,” with controlled access to buildings that often requires card readers and remote cameras, said associate principal Kenneth Rohlfing of the Chicago office of Perkins and Will. The architecture firm has designed many campus buildings including projects in China, Canada and the Middle East.

“Historically, university campuses have been very secure, but that’s changing,” he said. There’s “kind of a new awareness that we all have that’s starting to affect design.”

Before a former NIU student opened fire during a class in Cole Hall, killing five students and himself, security at the building was “pretty similar to the rest of campus,” said Lee Blank, 23, an NIU student and reporter for the Northern Star, the student newspaper. “Doors were unlocked until 10 p.m.”

Since then, though, the building has remained locked, and “there has been a heightened security presence on campus.”

It’s unclear what steps the university will take to increase building security. The NIU campus architect did not return several calls Tuesday seeking comment.

NIU President John G. Peters and Gov. Rod Blagojevich announced a plan Feb. 27 to tear down and replace Cole Hall, which was built in 1968. But Peters changed course March 4, saying he would seek input from staff and students before deciding what to do.

There was “increasing student backlash” because people felt like they were not consulted, Blank said. One thing students don’t want, he added, is metal detectors.

On Tuesday, Peters said planning for a memorial would take place in three phases: naming a committee to collect ideas, deciding on a budget, and submitting plans to the president, according to the Star.

At Virginia Tech, the second floor of a building where a student killed 30 people last April before taking his own life is being turned into a peace-studies center. The gunman also killed two students in a dormitory, which will be renovated in some way, officials said.

©2001 – 2013 Medill Reports – Chicago, Northwestern University. A publication of the Medill School.