NORMAL — Illinois State University's Bone Student Center was a busy place during spring break.
Construction workers put finishing touches on several new areas while staff stocked shelves at the new Barnes & Noble bookstore and employees at Qdoba and Starbucks received training.
But last week's hive of activity was nothing compared to what's expected at 10 a.m. Monday when the doors open to the first and second floors of the three-story addition to the 45-year-old building.
Starbucks will be open. So will the new, greatly expanded Barnes & Noble. Qdoba will open at 11 a.m. McAlister's Deli, the only holdover from before the project began, also will be open.
“I have a feeling there will be a long line,” said Bill Legett, director of events management.
Construction on the $33 million revitalization project began in September 2017. It's been called the new “front door” and the “living room” of the university.
The student center Starbucks is twice the size of the one at the Student Fitness Center, Legett said, “and that one is already one of the busiest in the Midwest on a college campus.”
The area will have a variety of seating options, with different flooring and different ceiling treatments and numerous outlets for charging electronic devices. A stage-like area with “soft” seating can be used for programs during less busy times, he said.
Stairs lead from Milner Plaza into a courtyard that was previously a puzzle to enter. “It's a hidden gem, really,” said Legett.
Several other outdoor seating areas will join the courtyard as places to congregate.
The new areas, seating and eating options give “opportunities for students to go and hang out,” said Legett. “Students want a place where they're going to feel comfortable, where it feels there's life here.”
Each floor has a gas fireplace with glass panels. The one on the third floor is positioned to be enjoyed from the inside or the outside patio. There also is greater use of natural light to brighten the center.
A welcome desk will greet people on the first floor. Eventually, the box office will move to that location.
“This is the first stop where our future Redbirds and their families will come,” said Legett. “This is the place where they will be greeted.”
And instead of winding through campus looking for the admissions office in Hovey Hall, they will hop on a nearby elevator or take the stairs to the third floor.
Even before they get that far, they will pass welcoming signs from the parking lot and see ISU photos and merchandise in the bookstore display windows.
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“As you come up, you'll really feel like you're at Illinois State University. … It has that Redbird feel,” said Legett. “We really want to make this entrance the front door to the university.”
Tom Cole of Core Construction said the project is essentially ahead of schedule.
“There have been some early delays we've made up for,” he said.
Legett said Core Construction has met every target so far — from having the Brown Ballroom done in time for Founders Day in February to completing the Starbucks-Qdoba areas in time for the students' return from spring break.
The next big piece is the “grand staircase,” set to open in time for commencement, “if the weather cooperates,” said Legett.
New lights on Milner Plaza line up with the grand staircase on the north side of the building and the overpass that crosses College Avenue to the south to connect the plaza to the quad.
“Eventually, they will be all the way to Locust” Street, which is north of the Bone parking lot, he said. “It will give you the feel of a path right through campus.”
Standing by a third-floor window that looks out toward the College Avenue overpass and the quad, Legett said, “This is my favorite space.”
When planning for the project began, talk included the importance of the quad to the campus, said Legett and “How do we incorporate that into the Bone Student Center?”
The answer was nearly floor-to-ceiling windows facing south in a conference room where prospective students will get their orientation sessions.
Undertaking such a major project while keeping the student center operating was “a monumental task,” said Legett.
Tony Herter, ISU project manager, said the project was a challenge and stressful at times but the nearly finished product is beautiful.
“I'm just amazed by how well we work together,” he said. “When we get a delay, we solve it.”