A rendering of a public walkway and landscape between the...

A rendering of a public walkway and landscape between the new mass timber academic and research buildings. Credit: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill

Stony Brook University will lead a $700 million effort to build a center for climate research, education and workforce training on Governors Island in New York Harbor that has the potential to create more than 9,000 jobs, city and school officials said Monday.

The university was one of three finalists to anchor the New York Climate Exchange, described by one supporter as a place for those "who want to be part of the new energy economy," and by Stony Brook University President Maurie McInnis as "a living laboratory and center for climate solutions on Governors Island."

It will bring together a consortium of universities, businesses and nonprofits to oversee the 400,000-square-foot campus for thousands of students from K-12 through graduate level. The Exchange will also include space to develop new green technology. The other finalists were groups led by Northeastern University and CUNY.

At a news conference Monday on Governors Island, Mayor Eric Adams said the project signals "a giant leap forward into the future."

What to know

  • Stony Brook University and a consortium of corporate and academic partners will anchor a $700 million campus on Governors Island focusing on climate research and education, workforce training and community engagement. 
  • The Climate Exchange, as the project is called, could eventually lead to 7,000 new green technology jobs plus 2,200 construction jobs.
  • It has a focus on economic justice and will work with communities affected by climate change. 

The climate change fight

"Fighting climate change is a real battle and it's a battle that we are going to not only lead the nation, but we are going to win," Adams said. "Creating tens of thousands of jobs, transforming our city into a global leader in developing a real climate solution and building a cleaner, greener … future for every New Yorker is what this project is about."

Adams said the project is the first-of-its-kind and "will make New York City a global leader in developing solutions for climate change while creating thousands of good-paying green jobs for New Yorkers and infusing $1 billion into our city’s economy.”

Once completed, city officials said in a news release, the Exchange "is expected to serve 600 postsecondary students, 4,500 K-12 students, 6,000 workforce trainees, and 250 faculty and researchers every year while supporting up to 30 businesses annually through its incubator program."

The buildup for Monday's announcement began in 2020 with the process to choose an anchor for a hub officials said is projected to create 7,000 jobs, plus 2,200 union construction jobs.

Beyond an initial infusion of $150 million from the city, McInnis said, the campus will be funded in part with gifts of $100 million from the Simons Foundation and $50 million from Bloomberg Philanthropies. Continued funding will come through philanthropy and fundraising, McInnis said, adding, "We obviously have more fundraising to do."

She said the hub would bring together world leaders, experts, scientists and other stakeholders in conferences, symposiums and collaborations to develop solutions in an "unprecedented" approach to solving the climate crisis. 

"I think what is so powerful about the model we have created is that we are bringing many different groups together … diverse voices to the table across sectors," McInnis said in an interview. " … From the very beginning we are working with the communities impacted by climate change … they will be able to be at the table working on what are the problems, how are we going to solve them, and to make solutions."

While Stony Brook, in conjunction with Farmingdale State College, is already involved in climate-related job training on Long Island, especially in wind energy technology, the Exchange will work primarily with city-based organizations in workforce training and educational programming.

The Exchange could establish relationships with regional groups as well, said Kevin Reed, associate dean for research at Stony Brook. The training programs, union jobs, and educational programs are open to people outside the city, he said. Anyone enrolled in participating universities, including Stony Brook, would be eligible for a "study abroad" on Governors Island in a "climate solutions semester," Reed said.

A quality proposal

Clare Newman, president and chief executive of the Trust for Governors Island, said the project is in line with city efforts to create "green jobs" on the island, which served as a military post and later a major command headquarters for the Army from 1794 until 1966.

"Stony Brook just really impressed us on a number of different factors: the quality of their research proposal and ability to translate that into practical solutions for urban environments — obviously has been a huge goal of this project and one where Stony Brook and their whole team's track record was extremely impressive" Newman said.

David Manning, spokesman for the Brookhaven National Lab, which is on the Stony Brook consortium's advisory board, applauded the Exchange as a magnet for talent and those "who want to be part of the new energy economy" bringing job opportunities to Long Island and the New York region.

BNL, managed by Brookhaven Science Associates, which is co-led by Stony Brook University under contract with the U.S. Department of Energy, is already deeply involved in climate and energy research and sees the potential for further collaboration with the Exchange, he said. 

"The opportunity for collaboration is significant. The other thing we're very interested in is workforce development," Manning said. "That is a priority for the Department of Energy and BNL. I think Brookhaven Lab is a key potential collaboration based on Long Island. We draw a lot of local students and this would obviously be an opportunity to attract some of the best students to the region."

The workforce training will meet job demand in the emerging energy economy, including in fields such as the off-shore wind industry, electric transportation and green construction, Manning said.

According to officials overseeing the project, the first phase is budgeted at $710 million for renovation of 170,000 square feet of historic structures, primarily for dorms and faculty housing, and 230,000 in sustainable new construction designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. The campus would generate all energy used there, and include new class­rooms, lab­o­ra­to­ries, research labs, pub­lic exhi­bi­tion space, stu­dent and fac­ul­ty hous­ing, uni­ver­si­ty hotel rooms, and audi­to­ri­um spaces. Public amenities would feature a public design lab and restaurants, and 4.5 acres of new open space. It would also feature the city's tallest mass-timber structure. Mass timber is composite wood product that can replace concrete and is considered sustainable.

Governors Island now attracts nearly a million visitors annually, who come for the Islands' open space and cultural events. Under the plan, improved ferry service departing every 15 minutes would take visitors to a renovated Yankee Pier and a new plaza by the new campus.

Stony Brook's core partners in its consortium are IBM, the Boston Consulting Group, Georgia Tech, the University of Washington, Pratt Institute, Pace University, and GOLES, a Lower East Side community group.

Project details

  • An all-electric campus with 100% of energy needs generated onsite.
  • The first academic campus in New York City to meet Living Building Challenge standards, including renovated historic buildings and new construction within the campus.
  • New York City’s first commercial buildings utilizing mass timber.
  • One of the first campuses in New York City to receive True Zero Waste certification, with 95% of waste generated on campus diverted from landfill.
  • Climate-resilient buildings achieving Waterfront Edge Design Guidelines certification.
  • 100% of non-potable water demand met with rainwater or treated wastewater.
  • A district geothermal and heat pump HVAC network serving the entire campus, producing an estimated 70%-reduction in energy use compared to facilities of a similar size.
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