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NIU faculty finally moves into new Stevens Building after 2 state budget impasses

DeKALB – Alexander Gelman, director of the School of Theatre and Dance at Northern Illinois University, said students were told they would get to use the new facility after construction of a new building started in April 2014.

Between construction stalls during the two-state budget impasses, however, Gelman said two undergraduate classes and one graduate class from the school have come and gone without ever having set foot in the promised building.

Five years and $30 million later, however, the new Stevens Building at NIU, which houses the theater department of Anthropology, will host classes for the first time this fall semester.

Gelman said students are thrilled to finally work in spaces that are not so spread across campus and DeKalb.

“As receptive and hospitable as those spaces were, it was very hard,” Gelman said.

John Heckmann, associate vice president of facilities management at NIU, said faculty and staff are moving into the new building.

He said all that remains to be done is cleaning up the O’Connell Theatre to make it production-ready by late fall.

Heckmann said new construction surrounding the larger theater includes a smaller black box theater, a big auditorium and several smaller academic spaces for class activities.

NIU spokesman Joe King said the new building is not open to the public yet. He said the university is planning a public unveiling of the Stevens Building sometime in the fall.

Gelman said students have been displaced for classes and performances during renovations. He said they have had to put on theatrical productions at a local middle school and within the NIU Holmes Student Center while the building was being under construction.

Gelman said he’s looking forward to having four performance spaces in the building for this year’s production season, as opposed to working with two production spaces for the past five years.

“Being in the building is essentially going to make it right,” Gelman said.

Heckmann said the state-funded project originally cost about $27 million, and the original completion date was set for October 2015.

With the two-year budget impasses putting construction on hold, the project took more than double the time estimated to be finished, and the state had to reimburse NIU about $3 million for weatherizing costs and additional fees for putting the contractor on hold for a year, he said.

“We were handed a tough situation with state budget delays,” Heckmann said, “but we persevered and think we got a decent product out of this effort.”

Kendall Thu, chairman the Anthropology Department, said faculty had to work out of extra residence hall space during the five years of the new Stevens Building construction, which has not been conducive to growing the program.

He said there has been a “weird vortex” of students that have gone through the anthropology program not only without working in the new building as promised, but also never knowing what it was like to work out of the old building.

Thu said everyone within the department is relieved to have everything return to normal soon ahead of the next academic semester and to have a building that will attract new and transfer students.

“Rather than dwelling in the past at this point, we’re just appreciating what we have,” Thu said.

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