Refurbishing Holmes Student Center

Project would rejuvenate student, visitor hub on campus

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DeKALB – Northern Illinois University is planning a multimillion dollar makeover of its student center in hopes of improving the university’s first impression on visitors.

“Remodeling Holmes Student Center would impact the entire campus community, and would directly be tied to the university’s recruitment and retention objectives,” NIU Trustee John Butler said. “It’s in serious need of upgrades and has been for years.”

The university could be giving a redesign to areas of the half-century-old student center, which was named for the university’s fifth president, Leslie Holmes. The building, with its grab-and-go eateries, student-run sit down restaurant, ballroom and meeting spaces, has a $43 million operating budget and is a money-maker for the university. Holmes Center is a mutipurpose, three-level building at the center – called the core area – of campus. The enhancements would happen in phases, officials said.

The center’s renovation is part of a longterm plan to upgrade what the university consider’s its core areas.

“Phase I of the Holmes Student Center is the priority project,” Butler said. “It would have the most significant impact of the priorities of the campus core goals.”

No formal plans have been adopted, but university officials could present a proposal to trustees for approval at the board’s Dec. 10 meeting.

“I think you’ll see in December a recommendation to support Phase I of the renovation of the Holmes Student Center project,” Butler said.

At that time, the university may formally approve asking for architectural design proposals, and actual construction could begin a year from now.

The first phase could cost between $16 million and $20 million, Butler said. He said money to pay for it would come the from the 2010 bond fund that raised $110 million for NIU to devote to revitalizing dorms and student life centers like Holmes.

“This is not money that can be used for purposes other that what we committed to when we borrowed the money it 2010,” said Butler. “We have funds available to at least start that project, and then we’ll be working with the foundation to help maybe raise additional funds, to help move that project forward.”

Phase I renovations are expected to include technology upgrades, said Jenkins. Among the enhancements that could come to the ground floor level of the building are more eateries in an extended marketplace, expanded lounging areas – with at least one of them connected to an outdoor patio, a suite of rooms where student organizations could have offices and host activities and an improved waiting area near the university-run bus terminal. One of the only changes likely for the hotel connected would be to update the welcome desk located on the ground floor.

Holmes Center is already a bustling social hub – accessible not only to students and staff, but also the surrounding community. There are several meeting rooms in the basement. The ground floor, which would be the site of Phase I, includes a bank branch, lounge area, eateries, the NIU bookstore and the Huskies Den – which has full bowling lanes, pool tables and more.

The building’s main floor features a lobby with open lounging areas and flat-screen TVs. It’s where the Duke Ellington Restaurant and ballroom are located. It serves as the terminal for the university-run buses. The center also has an adjoining 15-story, 78-room hotel that students, staff and the general public may use.

Norm Jenkins, director of the Holmes Center, said it is a “self-sustaining” operation.

As the project’s name suggests – The Holmes Student Center Neptune Complex Redevelopment Plan – renovating the run down Neptune residence hall had been expected along with the center’s upgrades. But improvements to the dorm – which has no air conditioning, limited elevator access and is one of the oldest on the campus – became secondary to the revenue-engine that is Holmes Student Center.

“We want to make it as friendly and open a facility as we can. Where students can come and enjoy camaraderie, but also have access to food and drink and entertainment,” Jenkins said. “Versatility, I would say, is a really important part of what we’re trying to achieve.”