Concerns Raised Over Future of Norris, Memorials and Potential BenefitsBy Tricia Sangalang
News Staff Writer
April 30, 2007
Authorities quickly erected a wire fence around Tech’s Norris Hall in the days after the shootings there April 16.
As if the building weren’t already eerie enough. The front doors now are closed, the windows are shut, and the wire fence casts a dark shadow over the symbolic Hokie Stone that’s featured on many campus buildings.
Planet Blacksburg’s staff described the stunned faces of the police officers and evidence technicians who came and went from the building in the grim hours after the brutal events there. It’s been two weeks, and many state police cars are still there, parked in and around the building.
Also still there is the ubiquitous yellow and black tape that lines the top of the fence.
You have to assume that these elements of the investigation will eventually fade from our campus, but the dread will never depart. Once a quaint afterthought on campus, the building is now a monument to the terror that has taken root in students’ hearts.
It will be impossible to look at Norris and not be overcome with some flashback to the horrific events that shocked Hokie Nation and the world. So now Norris, too, becomes another decision for Tech’s administration.
What to do with it? After the university indicated that the academic building would be closed for the remainder of the semester, students discussed turning it into a memorial. The day after the shootings, a petition began circulating suggesting Norris Hall’s name should be changed to “Librescu Hall” in honor of the professor who gave his life to slow down the killer so that his students could escape by jumping out the window of their second-story classroom.
Tech’s Board of Visitors will consider a host of options, including tearing the building down and rebuilding it entirely, and even renovating the inside, while keeping its historic foundation intact.
Mark Owczarski, director of news in the university relations office, acknowledged the obvious recently: The university will take time in making its decision. The building is in the process of being cleaned and repaired.
“Everything is on the table. Every (option) will be discussed,” he said. “The decision needs thoughtful consideration...We have to take this one step at a time...There is no time frame.”
Owczarski noted the fate of building will lie in community reactions and careful consideration by university officials.
However, the current focus of the university is in the closure of this semester, assisting students, faculty and families in the grieving process, as well as preparation for the commencement ceremony on May 11.
Last week, families of victims were able to begin the grim process of claiming their loved ones’ possessions, bloodied backpacks and other items that had been caught up in the state’s investigation of the slaughter.
In addition to discussions of Norris Hall’s future, students raised concern for the preservation of the mementos churned up by the events of the past two weeks: Hokie Stones, memorial banners and signs located on the Drillfield and in Squires Student Center.
Hokies United, the large student leadership group, indicated through a campus-wide e-mail sent late Friday that it would move the VT community boards and other items associated with the grieving back onto the Drillfield over the weekend. These items had been moved to Squires last Wednesday due to weather concerns. The items will be enclosed by a tent and will remain in the center of the Drillfield until commencement.
“The tent will...(allow) members of the community the opportunity to view the memorials throughout the day,” the e-mail stated. The items serve as a reminder of the support received from people and organizations all over the world.
“The university understands the power of support and wants to acknowledge and thank (those who sent them),” Owczarski said.
He indicated uncertainty as to the long-term home for the memorial items, or even if they would be displayed after the commencement ceremony.
“This is part of our history, good or bad,” he said. “The memorials will be saved and archived...none will be thrown away.”
DMB On Campus?
Beyond concern for the memorials, students have also indicated there is speculation about a benefit concert set for this fall. Tech President Charles Steger has told the Chronicle of Higher Education that there is a desire to do something special for students when they return to campus next August.
However, despite rumors of big acts, such as Dave Matthews Band, which supposedly are to perform, Owczarski said the university has no definite plans at this point.
One source in the university administration said many music groups and entertainment acts have approached the university about performing a concert for the students. One of those receiving strongest consideration is Dave Matthews, said the source in administration.
“There are lot of ideas (from) tributes, to memorials to fundraisers that have come up,” Owczarski said. “It will take time to get this prepared.”
He explained that ideas of such events would come from the students and organizations, such as Hokies United. With one week left in the semester, he expressed the difficulty in planning such an event so soon.
Planning organizations and the university will work together to devise such events.
Perhaps the only truly clear thing right now is that Norris has a new place in the hearts of students and the university community. That new place is both eerie and sad.