It took a while after the shootings for a consensus to emerge at Virginia Tech about what to do with Norris Hall, where most of the deaths occurred. In the midst of all the pain, grieving and healing, some people talked of tearing down the three-story classroom building — or perhaps turning it into a memorial.
But engineering professor Ishwar Puri, whose department is based in Norris, was determined to preserve it as a place to learn.
"People were hesitant as to whether to move back into the space," he says. "I said, 'I'm going back, and you're welcome to follow me.' And fortunately, many of my colleagues wanted to."
This month marks the second anniversary of the nation's deadliest campus shooting. On Friday, Puri will help reopen the part of Norris where the violence happened. There no longer will be traditional classrooms there. Administrators feared that students could be traumatized by taking classes in the same building where gunman Seung-hui Cho murdered 30 people.
The area has been reconfigured with study space, a teleconference room and labs. Instead of the tile floors and cinderblock walls, the new Norris Hall has hardwood floors and walls of frosted glass. It's a modern look that professor Puri hopes will signify Virginia Tech's determination to move into the future, despite the tragedy in its past.
"If Norris Hall was a boarded building, it would stick out like a sore thumb on campus for the tragedy," Puri said. "Instead, you walked in the hallways, you heard students mingling, you heard professors discussing research, and I think that it's a wonderful way to honor the fallen."
Puri concedes that some students and staff members remain reluctant to go to Norris. But others enter eagerly — even some who were most affected by the shooting.
Jerzy Nowak's wife Jocelyne, who was a professor, was among the victims.
"My wife was killed right here," Nowak said, "at this wall, while protecting the students."
Nowak, who is also a faculty member, will be working in Norris Hall, only a few feet from where his wife died. He heads the university's Center for Peace Studies and Violence Prevention, which hopes to develop scientific means to avert future attacks. The center was formed after the shooting took place — and will be housed where it took place.
"It is an invisible memorial," Nowak said. "With more and more interacting with relatives of the victims, I have learned how important is the symbolic location of the center, and it is a major step toward healing and recovery."
As workers put final touches on the $800,000 renovation, some people on campus express relief that this prominent building no longer will have a section blocked off by crime tape or construction barricades.
Student Fred Cook was in Norris during the shooting; he survived by jumping out a window.
"It's always going to be a part of my life," Cook said. But this space now, the changes they made to it, the beautiful lab space and stuff here, gives it a different feel than it did before, and they've made it into a pretty beautiful part of the campus."
One thing that won't be in the new Norris Hall is a plaque or other visible symbol of what took place two years ago. There's a memorial to the victims elsewhere on campus, but Virginia Tech administrators say they want Norris to be what they call a "normal, functioning building," not a somber one.