NORMAL — Illinois State University will have a new “front door” and a more welcoming atmosphere for visitors when a major renovation project at its Bone Student Center is completed in 2½ years, school officials say.

The $33 million project, to be done in three phases, includes renovation of the Brown Ballroom, improvements to the west entrance with the addition of a reception area for people attending events, and construction of a new east entrance with a multistory addition that will include an information center for visitors and students.

“It really does make a front door to our campus,” said David Gill, director of facilities planning. “We're enthusiastic about it. We think it will be a big improvement for the campus.”

Levester Johnson, vice president for student affairs, said the upgrades to the 44-year-old building will “transform the experience and your perception of the campus and how you're being welcomed.”

Most visitors to campus — other than those attending sporting events — park in the Bone Student Center lot and are greeted by what is essentially the back side of the building, with no view of the main campus. They have to find their way to the admissions office at Hovey Hall following Redbirds painted on the sidewalks.

Gill admits it is “not the most inviting side of our campus.”

Plans also call for a “grand staircase” that will be aligned with the overpass the takes pedestrians over College Avenue to the main part of campus.

“Imagine walking up that staircase and seeing the quad in all its grandeur,” said Johnson.

The staircase area also will have an accessible ramp and pathway to an elevator, according to Gill.

Johnson sees the project as offering opportunities not only for current and future or prospective students, but also for alumni, the campus as a whole and the community at large.

The new reception area will provide a place to gather before functions in the Brown Ballroom rather than standing in the main hallway. Renovations also will improve the ability to partition the ballroom space, said Johnson.

The bookstore will be moved from its obscure upper floor location to the first floor on the east side of the building with its own entrance to the outside, allowing it to keep its own hours, said Johnson.

“One of the criticisms we've heard repeatedly about the Bone Student Center is it is like a bunker with no windows,” said Johnson. To address that, the roof will be raised in some areas and windows will be added above to let in more natural light.

The project is about more than looks. Gill and Johnson both pointed out that needs and expectations have changed since the center was built in 1973.

For example, outlets will be added to meet the demand for places to charge electronic devices.

The catering kitchen will move to the first floor and an expanded food court will take its place, offering a variety of options.

The first phase will last through February 2019. The student center will remain operational throughout the project although some portions of the building will be closed during certain periods, according to Gill. He said everyone is working together to minimize disruption and those who oversee events scheduling are closely involved.

“I look at these new facilities and see all the new opportunities … to celebrate, to engage, to learn and to have fun,” said Johnson.

Follow Lenore Sobota on Twitter: @pg_sobota

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