The $27 million, environmentally-friendly campus was paid for by the university, which borrowed the funds as an investment to get the campus up and running, according to Dr. Sharon Hahs, NEIU president.
“When we went to press on this building we said it needs to be as green as it can be. We want to make that statement on behalf of our future,” Hahs said. “I think the most important thing, from our point of view, is that our wonderful academic programs deserves a fantastic facility.”
The 55,000-square-foot building, bordered by Henderson Street and Drake and Avondale avenues, sits in clear view of the 460,000 vehicles that travel the Kennedy Expy. each day. Once construction is completed, the building will replace the current El Centro at 3119 N. Pulaski Road, also in Avondale, which became overcrowded as enrollment grew, Hahs said.
The original campus began with a focus on the Latino community on Chicago’s Northwest Side, offering English as a second language courses, computer literacy workshops and seminars on education, health, housing and technology.
While the new campus continues in that tradition, NEIU administrators will expand the selection of undergraduate courses in a range of subjects across four majors.
The three-story, 3-acre structure will continue to serve as "an anchor” for the Latino community in its new Avondale location, Hahs said. Out of three final-round location options, she said the vibrancy of the neighborhood drew NEIU in.
The new campus will be led by Maria Luna-Duarte, a former undocumented immigrant, Enlace community liaison and an NEIU grad who'll receive her doctorate at the University of Illinois Chicago.
“We wanted to stay close to the neighborhoods that we serve,” she said. "[The campus] is going to be a home away from home for our students, and our offices will be right on the first floor with the students.”
During a tour of the nearly finished building, project manager David Jonaitis described many of the facilities' sustainable features, including its LEED status, LED parking lot lights built to reduce light pollution, stormwater retention efforts and 140 newly planted trees and prairie plants.
Jonaitis and El Centro’s construction crew removed 1,000 semi truckloads of petrochemicals and postindustrial dirt from the site before construction began, he added.
Facility features will include an electronic library with a floating staircase, bamboo benches lining a long polished concrete hallway that doubles as an art gallery, large wall-to-wall laminated glass windows that provide sound dampeners from the nearby expressway and materials like brushed steel designed as a nod to the neighborhood’s industrial past.
“We are so proud of this building — it’s hard to describe it just in words,” Hahs said. “With the energy that is associated with our new building, our new site and our ability to serve our community — we are just really thrilled. I think there’s something special in completing this project.”
El Centro’s first class is expected to be held in August.
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