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Concerns Raised Over Future of Norris, Memorials and Potential Benefits

By 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.

Comments (12)

I think an interesting avenue worth considering is to demolish Norris Hall, host a national design competition and create a memorial on the footprint of the building. Create a green, peaceful place with a reflecting pool and representative space utilizing the 32 (33) stones currently housed on the Drill Field - they are important as they embody the immediacy of the moment.

G. Christopher | May 1, 2007 6:24 PM

I originally thought that Norris Hall should be turned into a memorial after seeing the outpoor of support at the drill field and Squires. But after talking to a VT alumnus, my thoughts have changed. My friend feels that putting a memorial there, while a tribute to the victims, would constantly bring back feelings of sadness on campus. Furthermore, prospective students would always think of the campus for the tragedy as they visited, rather than its great academic institution. While I definitely agree all of the signatures and memorials should be preserved, I now believe they should be left off of campus, and Norris should possibly be rebuilt.

Steven Reese | May 2, 2007 10:35 AM

Demolishing Norris Hall would be a hollow sentimental gesture. It would add yet more waste to this wasteful tragedy. Build a memorial in your own life - live it to the fullest in memory of those that were cut short. Honor their intention to go forward in service of a better world. Do not memorialize their victimhood. The hard work of making Virginia Tech a greater university place should be our tribute. Someplace THEY would be proud to call theirs.

Robert Wilson | May 2, 2007 11:48 AM

As a Virgina Tech alumni, I would not want to see Norris Hall torn down. Many, many students have passed through that hall on their way to acheiving their education at Virginia Tech. Why let 9 minutes of a senseless act overshadow many, many years of the learning and teaching that took place within it's walls.

As far as renaming the building, I would also like to propose including Dr. Loganathan's name for consideration. Dr. Loganathan taught hundreds of civil engineering students in Norris Hall during a 25 year period.

Joe Robinson, VPI 85, 89 | May 5, 2007 11:26 AM

Let Norris stand as a tribute to the endeavors of those whose lives were taken from us. Renovate it and let it blaze with the excellence of hope and possibility that those students and professors showed day to day and in their final moments. Rise Hokie Nation, Rise!

JW | May 5, 2007 12:24 PM

Please don't tear down Norris Hall- Mr. Wilson expressed why perfectly.

However... No student should ever be asked to sit a class in one of those classrooms again. With the media frenzy that followed, an unprecendented amount of information was available about the events in Norris Hall, and it is widely known exactly which classrooms students fled from.

J. Roy | May 5, 2007 10:58 PM

I read the petition and was deeply moved, but on reflection do not believe Norris Hall should be renamed; nor do I believe it should be used for any purpose other than that for which it was being used on April16. I agree that Dr. Librescu should be remembered in a significant way, but I believe it should be a way that reflects the decision he made.
Dr. Librescu, as a holocaust survivor, understood in a very real sense what most of us can only begin to imagine: the true value of the gift he made to his students. He honored his survival by living a meaningful and productive life, and may have recognized as grace the opportunity to make even his death truly meaningful when he chose to use it to give his students the chance to survive and fulfill their own potential. Certainly this was a heroic act. Certainly it should be honored; but I believe a far better recognition of Dr. Librescu's intent would be to endow a scholarship in his name, and one in the name of each of the instructors who died that day, to aid a deserving student in each of their respective fields.
Norris Hall is the site of a terrible tragedy, a place where five professors and 26 students, one of whom was deeply troubled, died. Changing the name of the building won't change what happened there. Razing the building will not remove it from the vocabulary of Virginia Tech. Embrace the memory of those who died there and honor them by continuing to pursue the goals they pursued there; to do anything else would allow the name to "remain synonymous with darkness and terror." Let Norris Hall stand as the Hokie Nation stands.

L.Cabot | May 6, 2007 3:26 PM

I think there should be a memorial for all the lives lost there somewhere on the campus. Also the VT students should have a vote.....either rename it in honor of Dr. Librescu or keep it Norris. I wouldn't tear it down though. It's such a beautiful building!! There will always be these memories of this tragedy no matter what they do & tearing it down would just be too drastic.

Wendy from Kentucky | May 6, 2007 9:05 PM

I think Norris should stay and be used for classes - I think the classrooms where the event happened should be turned into a memorial and museum, with all the posters and banners and things.

Anon | May 6, 2007 11:55 PM

This building is hallowed and I do not think it should be disturbed, it should remain intact, protected and maintained as a conservatory of sorts for reflection, prayer and philosophical thought/discussion, it should not be a place of comotion or turmoil or debate but it should be profoundly respected and vigilantly protected. I would like to see a protective barrier erected. This structure should remain a monument to a higher caliber of thought and conduct but there needs to be a movement to enshrine that building.

dd | May 8, 2007 5:00 PM

As Tech alumnus I would really hate to see this beautiful and historic old building that has stood on the Virginia Tech campus for nearly half a century, and where I and many other Hokies have attended classes to become the final victim of this tragedy. With Norris Hall gone the view across the drillfield would never be the same. When was a freshman back in 1992 I lived in Main Campbell Hall and I absolutely loved that view across the drillfield from my third floor window. The day I moved out I took a snapshot out of that window...and that beautiful picture with Burruss in the middle framed by Norris and Pamplin on either side still hangs on my wall today.

The University should repair Norris Hall, and reopen if for classes and research next year. Demolishing or renaming it won't erase what happened...nothing can ever do that. This building where our fellow Techmen and women died is hallowed. Whether we like it or not this tragic event will forever be a part of Virginia Tech history. All we can do is to make sure we never forget our fellow Hokies who lost their lives and remember how this horrific event brought the entire Hokie Nation together and proved that Hokie Spirit cannot be broken by one crazed individual with a huge amount of hate and a couple of guns.


Rob | May 19, 2007 2:49 AM

I am not even going to say what I think they should do because I was not there. Sure, I was affected by it... anybody that knows about it is affected by it. I think they should allow the students to vote on what should be done with Norris Hall. They are the ones that were there. I can imagine that there are some students that won't even be able to look at that building when they return. After watching all the stories from the friends of the victims...about their lives and how great they were... I think they would want what the students want. It shouldn't matter what anyone else wants. They are the ones that will come back for their homecoming and relive that day. Let them come back and say "This is what WE decided on... ", not "I really wish that they had not left it like this" or "Why did they tear it down?" Let the ones that lived it make the decision. They will be living with it for the rest of their lives.

Chip Hanson | July 17, 2007 8:41 PM