A news conference was held Tuesday at Barsema Alumni and Visitors Center to announce NIU has joined the Illinois Innovation Network, in partnership with the University of Illinois system. Of the $500 million committed in the spring to IIN, $15 million will go toward the state-of-the-art facility on the far-west end of campus, according to Gov. Bruce Rauner. NIU will foot the other $7.9 million through in-kind contributions, private investment and donations, according to a news release from the university.Christmas is coming. I can't guarantee I'll open my checkbook.
NIU President Lisa Freeman said the building, dubbed the Northern Illinois Center for Community Sustainability, will feature cutting-edge laboratories, classrooms, and collaborative spaces. Additionally, the 20-acre plot will provide space for greenhouses and field sites. An Allied Environmental Policy Institute and Environmental Law Clinic are also planned. Freeman said NIU's three foci through the partnership will be food systems, water resources and climate change.All the usual buzzwords. Will anyone being talking seriously about closing the Lake Calumet locks? Replacing the Byron Generating Facility with a state-of-the-art nuclear steam power plant?
"The goals are ambitious," Freeman said, "to be a local leader in food systems, climate change, and water research, to develop a talent pipeline for all aspects of community sustainability, to attract new sources of funding to support basic and applied research, education and workforce development, and to drive innovation and economic development."
The pocket agriculture campus will occupy vacant space all taxpayers paid for, thanks to a 2005 "porkulus" transportation bill whipped through the House by Northern Illinois graduate and disgraced House speaker J. Dennis Hastert.
NIU is the first non-University of Illinois institution to join the network, and is the fourth hub across the state, which also includes U of I campuses in Urbana-Champaign, Chicago, and Springfield. A facility similar to the one that will be built in DeKalb will be erected in Champaign-Urbana, and then the other campuses will follow. Each center will capitalize on their respective university's strengths.We'll be following developments.
Freeman said next steps here will include focusing on architectural and engineering issues in the next year, with hopes to have the facility up and running in fall of 2021, and no later than 2022.