A preliminary design for the new Bone Student Center north plaza, and how it looks today.

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Illinois State’s “living room” is about to get an extreme makeover.

The University is moving ahead with plans for a $32.9 million renovation of the Bone Student Center, a project that will create an inviting “front door” for visitors and add new dining and hangout spaces for students. It will be the first major upgrade for the 42-year-old campus hub, which has 5,000 daily visitors and hosts more than 4,500 events each year.

“The term we’ve been using is transformational,” said Michelle Paul, director of the Bone Student Center and Braden Auditorium.

Illinois State’s Board of Trustees recently approved plans to begin construction on the first phase of the project, which will be paid for primarily with existing reserve funds.

Highlights of the much-needed revitalization project include:

  • New welcome center that will be the Bone’s front door, open access to Milner Plaza, and feature an Office of Admissions presentation room that overlooks the Quad.
  • Additional dining venues, including more “fast casual” options.
  • Knocking out walls to create more “open concept” areas with natural light.
  • Relocated and larger Barnes & Noble-Illinois State University Bookstore.
  • New foyer/reception area outside the Brown Ballroom, which will now be able to host up to three separate smaller events.

The Bone is often called Illinois State’s “living room,” but its old-school, concrete-heavy design can appear fort-like, said Paul. (The architectural style of the current building is literally called “brutalist.”)

Bone interior future design
A preliminary design of the new Bone Student Center first level main entrance, with a three-story fireplace and new bookstore space visible on the right side.

By adding more natural light and “open concept” seating areas, project leaders hope to create a Bone that excites and attracts the next generation of Redbirds.

“We hope that by blowing out the walls and bringing in the windows and light, people will feel like it’s open and easier to make their way through the building,” said Paul.

Working with Dewberry Architects and Workshop Architects, ISU’s project leaders hope to create spaces that are both “sticky” and “thick,” meaning they’ll attract and hold students while also serving many different purposes. The Bone’s outdoor courtyard, for example, is today hard to find. In the new Bone, it will have its own staircase down from Milner Plaza and a coffee shop just inside.

“What we’re trying to do here is make it more student-friendly, more outgoing and welcoming to bring students in,” said David Gill, director of Facilities Planning and Construction Management at Illinois State. “We want to make it more welcoming and more fun to be in.”

It can also be a powerful recruiting tool. The welcome center’s new presentation room, on the third floor, will offer an impressive view of Illinois State’s Quad for prospective students and their families.

“When people get on our campus and see the Quad, it’s a huge selling point,” Paul said.

The new Bone will also improve functionality. Its catering kitchen will be moved downstairs, where most catered events take place, and a loading dock will make it easier for drivers to come and go.

Campus Dining Services and the Dean of Students Office will be moved into new office space on the second floor, where the Barnes & Noble Bookstore is currently located. The bookstore will be moving downstairs in a larger space, with its own outside entrance—another first.

Illinois State has been planning Bone renovations off and on literally for decades, but this is the first time the project has been so close to construction.

The construction timeline is hard to pin down, in part because the new dining venues haven’t been decided and because ISU staff wants to minimize disruption to students and other visitors. But if all goes as planned, groundbreaking could take place in winter 2016, Paul said. It will take years to complete.

“We’re all teed up and ready to go,” said Gill.

A preliminary design for the new Brown Ballroom pre-function area, and how it looks today.

A preliminary design for the new south entry and courtyard, and how it looks today.

Ryan Denham can be reached at rmdenha@IllinoisState.edu.

11 thoughts on “‘Transformational’ project set to reshape Bone Student Center

  1. Adam Bradford says:

    So an average of 12.3 events a day take place there? I’d really like to know how they define “event.”

  2. James says:

    What about some more very much needed housing for freshmen and sophomores?

    1. Freddy says:

      BOOM! Goes the dynamite….no kidding. They didn’t have enough housing when I went there in the late 80’s

  3. Shawn Brennan says:

    I’d like to know where the ‘Before’ and ‘Aftershots came from. They don’t do it any justice when one hasn’t been on campus in several years. Other than that, I like the new style.

    1. Susan Thetard says:

      Just curious; did you slide arrows on each picture to get fuller view of each old and new?

      1. Yes, that is how it works. Thank you.

  4. Amanda Clayton says:

    WOW! The preliminary design photos look amazing! That will be such an improvement! So many great design choices such as the proposed wider more prominent stairway through north plaza and making all the entrances to each building actually look like entrances.

  5. Tim Herman says:

    I think this is a fantastic idea! I have very many great memorys of the student center from the 70’s. Looks Great!!

  6. Richard L. Nimz, Ph. D. says:

    As a former ISU Union Board Member under the leadership of Bruce Kaiser and as a student and later a faculty member and friend of Dr. Robert Bone, I was a part of the rapid growth of ISU. I am sure both Bruce and Bob would approve of the new design concepts of the “new” Bone Center. Richard L. Nimz (Class of 1962) (Faculty 1965-1969)

  7. Adrian Takir says:

    Can we assume that ALL areas of the new center will be accessible for the disabled?

  8. Tony Durnil 89' says:

    I’ve got my fingers crossed that the dining venues include the return of Dairy Queen so the next generation of students have an excuse to leave the library early for a Blizzard run!