EDGEWATER — Loyola University's brand new Institute of Environmental Sustainability features a biodiesel lab, geothermal heating and a glass-covered atrium filled with pots of basil, lettuce and other plants grown by an aquaponics system and greenhouse.
Student rooms in a new 412-bed dorm overlook the nursery below.
"Everything that happens at this university is good not only for the university, for the students at the university, [but also] for the entire society," said Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago), who attended the building's grand opening Friday alongside other Chicago politicians.
The institute, at 6349 N. Kenmore Ave., cost Loyola $58.8 million to build, officials said.
Underneath the building, 91 geothermal wells drilled 500 feet into the ground circulate water throughout the building to regulate heat. On the first floor, the geothermal pipes can be seen through glass floor tiles.
Zach Waikman, the director of the institute's biodiesel lab, said new equipment has the capacity to pump out 100,000 gallons of biodiesel a year.
Actual production of the fuel, derived from the campus dining halls' used cooking oil, would hover around 30,000 gallons and be used in the university's shuttle buses and to help heat the building, he said.
On the second floor, a glass-enclosed atrium hosts the institute's aquaponics system and greenhouse. Tilapia fish in tanks provide fertilizer for dozens of flats of plants.
And collected rain water irrigates the soil — and flushes toilets throughout the building.
The university also plans to transform the 6300 block of North Kenmore Avenue into a park space, pedestrian walkway and bike path. In July, Ald. Harry Osterman (48th) expressed his support for the project, which would vacate the block of vehicles.
"All of us live on this planet. We breathe the same air, drink the same water, grow our food from the same soil and share the same limited resources," said Nancy Tuchman, a professor and ecologist who runs Loyola's environmental programs. "We all have a shared responsibility to create an environmental solution, not environmental problems. That's why this institute is for everyone."
Loyola welcomed a record number of freshman students to campus this year, officials said.