State issues $15M in funding to incentivize development of NIU sustainability center

The remaining $8 million cost of the $23 million project is anticipated through in-kind contributions.

Northern Illinois University, large red NIU sign outside the Holmes Student Center in DeKalb, IL on Thursday, May 13, 2021.

DeKALB – Northern Illinois University is one step closer to becoming home to a new, state-of-the-art sustainability center, according to a news release.

Gov. JB Pritzker recently announced the release of $37.3 million in funding to support the construction and renovation of five facilities aimed at accelerating job creation and economic growth through groundbreaking education, research and discovery.

NIU’s Northern Illinois Center for Community Sustainability is among the list of projects to receive a share of that funding.

Also receiving state support are Northeastern Illinois University, Southern Illinois University Carbondale, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and the University of Illinois Springfield.

The 30,000 square-foot facility, once built, will help facilitate research on water resources, environmental change and food systems, while also promoting science-based policies and practices for communities.

“Rebuild Illinois isn’t just about modernizing our roads and bridges – it’s about building a future for generations to come that is economically prosperous with the promise of opportunity at every turn,” Pritzker said in a statement. “That’s why we are distributing more than $37 million to first-rate educational institutions throughout our state to create facilities that will prepare our students for the jobs of today and tomorrow. From researching water resources at NIU’s Northern Illinois Center for Community Sustainability to addressing food deserts and agricultural challenges at SIUC’s Illinois Food, Entrepreneurship, Research and Manufacturing hub, young Illinoisans will have the opportunity to shape our future by coming up with cutting-edge solutions to our 21st century problems – all while furthering our state’s status as a national hub for all things research and innovation.”

The Illinois Capital Development Board is charged with overseeing projects’ design and construction in accordance with the protocol for state-appropriated projects, according to the release.

“This is wonderful news for NIU, our region and our state,” NIU President Lisa C. Freeman said in the release. “NICCS builds on a foundation of faculty excellence in environmental science and sustainability. The center will strengthen research designed to promote sustainable solutions to a multitude of challenges facing our region and state, and also spur economic development and create opportunities for public-private partnerships. Most importantly, NICCS will prepare our students to be leaders in environmental stewardship by providing them with relevant hands-on learning experiences and opportunities.”

The Capital Development Board, in conjunction with a consultant, already has prepared conceptual plans and design objectives for NICCS. NIU has identified needs for classrooms, offices, laboratories, an atrium, an auditorium and collaborative and conference spaces, as well as two envisaged wings for research and external tenants, the news release states.

The remaining $8 million cost of the $23 million project is anticipated through in-kind contributions, according to the release. Added funding is projected through private investment and donations.

“Our goal is to make NICCS a world-class destination for experts, university faculty, graduate and undergraduate students, government and business leaders and citizens working to enhance sustainability in their communities,” Gerald C. Blazey, NIU vice president for Research and Innovation Partnerships, said in the release. “Under a best-case scenario, construction would begin as soon as late next year, with a center grand opening in 2026.”

Work at NICCS will focus on three areas: improving water resources, predicting and managing environment change and creating food-system innovation.

“As an alum of Northern Illinois University, I saw first-hand the benefits of the generational transformation this institution provided to first-generation college students,” State Representative Jeff Keicher said in the release. “As the state representative for NIU, I’m excited that this new center will offer innovative research opportunities to the generations that follow and continue to allow NIU to build on its reputation of changing our world for the better.”

Professor Holly Jones said in the statement that she anticipates the new facility will help promote research by growing interdisciplinary connections with experts from an array of disciplines.

“NICCS will be a hub of research and discovery, which will allow faculty members, students and staff to forge new connections with local business leaders and industry in ways we couldn’t otherwise,” Jones said. “It’s exciting to think of the new avenues for transdisciplinary research and scholarship that we will be able to pursue with this new center.”

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