February 12, 2020
Center to focus on sustainability of food systems, water resources and ecosystems
The Northern Illinois Center for Community Sustainability (NICCS) took a major step forward Wednesday when Gov. J.B. Pritzker released $500 million in capital funding appropriated for the Discovery Partners Institute (DPI) and the Illinois Innovation Network (IIN), including $15 million for the NICCS at Northern Illinois University.
Announced in October 2018, NICCS is part of the IIN, a group of research and innovation centers aimed at driving economic growth in Illinois and addressing critical global issues. The centers will support interdisciplinary research, policy development, and public-private partnerships to stimulate economic development and job creation, as well as to attract and develop talent.
"We are very excited by Gov. Pritzker's dedication to this project," said NIU President Dr. Lisa C. Freeman. "NICCS will strengthen Illinois by creating locally based innovative solutions focused on improving food systems and water resource management in a world facing shrinking natural resources, changing climate, and increasing urbanization," Dr. Freeman said.
The 30,000-square-foot NICCS facility will be constructed on the university's west campus, in an area north of the NIU Convocation Center. It will include classrooms, laboratories, exhibits and collaboration space for work with IIN and private sector partners.
Preliminary discussions about the building have been underway, but the release of funds frees the university to begin formal planning and design. The $15 million released by the governor covers about two-thirds of the cost of the project. NIU will contribute the remainder in equipment, land, and amenities. There will be opportunities for partners to contribute the facility. Early projections call for construction to begin in 2021 with the facility coming online in 2023.
Work at NICCS will focus on three key areas:
All NICCS initiatives will be multidisciplinary and will recast research findings into policy options for local communities.
"Our overarching goal is to prepare northern Illinois and the nation for a century of change," says Gerald C. Blazey, NIU vice president for research and innovation partnerships, who also serves as chair of the Illinois Innovation Network Council, which will develop the framework for collaboration between IIN members. "We want to provide communities, businesses and farmers with the information and innovations that will ensure a sustainable future. We look forward to working with other universities on these issues and we are eager to partner with the many businesses that have a stake in the issues we will address."
The network is currently comprised of 15 hubs across Illinois, one at each of the state's 13 public universities, an innovation center in Peoria, and the network's centerpiece, the Discover Partners Institute (DPI) in downtown Chicago.
At Wednesday's announcement that the funding has been released, Tim Kileen, president of the University of Illinois, which is the leading the DPI initiative, said that he looks forward to working with NIU to harness the potential of the IIN. "The U of I System and Northern Illinois University are providing initial funds to support IIN research and outreach programs, which will show the far-reaching inpact that the network can have across the state," he said.
While NIU (and some other hubs) will focus on the themes of environment, water, food and agriculture, others will work on themes of computing, data, health and wellness. Regardless of the areas of research, all of the hubs will strive to grow Illinois' workforce, bring new technologies to market faster and utilize research to ensure a sustainable future for the state.
Northern Illinois University is a student-centered, nationally recognized public research university, with expertise that benefits its region and spans the globe in a wide variety of fields, including the sciences, humanities, arts, business, engineering, education, health and law. Through its main campus in DeKalb, Illinois, and education centers for students and working professionals in Chicago, Hoffman Estates, Naperville, Oregon and Rockford, NIU offers more than 100 courses of study while serving a diverse and international student body of about 17,000.