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New Sustainability Center At Northern Illinois University

Northern Illinois University Gets $15 Million In Public Funds For A New Sustainability Center 

In a move that could set the stage for future investments in environmental education, the state of Illinois recently approved $15 million for the construction of a new sustainability facility at Northern Illinois University that will serve as a research and policy center on environmental issues.

The funds allow NIU to begin construction on the $23 million Northern Illinois Center for Community Sustainability (NICCS). It was part of a larger $37.3 million outlay from the state that will be used to launch facilities for five hubs of the Illinois Innovation Network (IIN), which aims to drive new jobs and economic growth through education, research, and discovery. 

Photo Courtesy Northern Illinois University

The sustainability center will span 30,000 feet on the west campus of NIU, and focus on research into water resources, environmental change, and food systems. It will also promote science-based policies and practices for communities.

The NICCS project is part of a broader funding initiative that includes building and renovating facilities at Northeastern Illinois University (NEIU), Southern Illinois University Carbondale (SIUC), Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (SIUE), and the University of Illinois Springfield (UIS).

Funds were made possible by the bipartisan Rebuild Illinois Capital program, with state investments matched dollar for dollar through university, private, and philanthropic funding sources, according to a Dec. 15 press release from NIU.

Photo Courtesy Northern Illinois University

“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,” Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker said in a statement. “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 (CDB) will oversee the projects’ design and construction in accordance with the protocol for state-appropriated projects.

Photo Courtesy Northern Illinois University

“[The NICCS] 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,” NIU President Dr. Lisa C. Freeman said. “Most importantly, NICCS will prepare our students to be leaders in environmental stewardship by providing them with relevant hands-on learning experiences and opportunities.”

Gerald C. Blazey, NIU vice president for Research and Innovation Partnerships, said the 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.”

Photo Courtesy Northern Illinois University/ Victor Gensini

Construction on the facility could begin later this year, Blazey added. A grand opening is scheduled for 2026.

Here’s a look at the three key focus areas for the sustainability center:

  • Improving water resources: NIU faculty, students, and IIN partners will develop new sustainable water management systems for agriculture, industry, and personal consumption.
  • Predicting and managing environmental change: Research will be conducted on topics such as biodiversity, ecosystem restoration, environmental maintenance, natural disasters, climate change, and response to extreme climate events.
  • Creating food-system innovation: The center will conduct multidisciplinary research into new methods of food production, working with partners from across the state, nation, and world.

In addition to the new facilities, NIU has appointed a Sustainability and Climate Action Planning Task Force. The task force will lead efforts to make the campus more sustainable and create a campus-wide sustainability and climate action plan.

NIU is no newcomer to sustainability and environmental issues. More than a decade ago, the university established its Institute for the Study of Environment, Sustainability, and Energy (ESE) to foster research, education, and community engagement about the environment and sustainability. ESE offers two undergraduate degrees in environmental studies, as well as a minor and two certificate programs.


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