Virginia Tech Weighs Choices For Norris Hall, Where 30 People Were Killed

Sunday, December 2nd 2007, 2:05 pm
By: News On 6

BLACKSBURG, Va. (AP) Classroom doors remain locked and hallway traffic is light in the building wing where 31 people died and two dozen others were wounded at Virginia Tech last spring. But plans are under way to put the scene of a national tragedy into use again.

A task force of faculty, staff and students is weighing two proposals for using seven second-floor classrooms in Norris Hall: One would create centers for violence prevention and student service work, while the other calls for videoconferencing, research and laboratory space for students.

The task force plans to submit its choice by Friday to president Charles Steger, who then may conduct his own study of how best to use the rooms, according to university spokesman Mark Owczarski. No definite dates have been set for a decision.

``This is a very emotional process, which underscores the reason why it's very difficult to put it on a schedule,'' Owczarski said.

After Seung-Hui Cho killed 30 of his 32 victims and committed suicide in Norris Hall on April 16th, ideas for the future of the three-story gray stone building ranged from restoring classes as usual, to turning the building into a memorial or razing it.

The school refurbished the structure, and officials reopened the building except for the second-floor classrooms because it contained sophisticated laboratory equipment that could not be moved. They decided it would no longer be used for general classes, and Provost Mark McNamee named a task force to consider seven proposals for the site of Cho's killing spree.

The group narrowed the proposals to two this fall, and is deliberating its recommendation for the 4,500 square feet of space.

The proposal for an Institute for Transformative Learning combines a program designed to increase student involvement in community service with a new center for violence prevention and peace studies.

John Dooley, vice provost for outreach and international affairs, had been looking for ways to promote volunteerism on campus before the shootings. He said it seemed that Norris Hall would be an ideal place to base the effort, and the task force combined his proposal with one for the peace studies.

The other proposal, submitted by Ishwar Puri, head of the department of engineering science and mechanics that is the primary occupant of Norris Hall, is aimed at increasing student use of the building with interactive learning spaces, including state-of-the-art videoconferencing and communications technology. A feature would be a center for children, aimed at demonstrating engineering principles with toys.