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New York City Plans Climate Center on Governors Island

The planned $700 million island campus will foster coastal sustainability and job training for the green economy. And befitting the Big Apple, it will be unlike any other climate research facility in the country.

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Open, accessible space will continue to be a feature of Governors Island when the Exchange is complete.
(SOM/ Miysis)

In  Brief:
  • Plans for the New York Climate Exchange were recently announced by Mayor Eric Adams.
  •  The state-of-the-art facility will be built on Governors Island in New York Harbor.
  •  The Climate Exchange will be built to the highest standards of sustainable design.

  • In a bid to make New York City a global leader in climate change research, Mayor Eric Adams recently unveiled plans for the New York Climate Exchange, an international center that will focus on developing and deploying solutions in response to the worldwide climate crisis. The state-of-the-art facility will be located on Governors Island, just off the southern tip of Manhattan.

    Although global in scope, the Exchange is also designed to help New Yorkers benefit from the rapidly evolving green economy by promot­ing edu­ca­tion, train­ing and work­force devel­op­ment opportu­ni­ties in cli­mate and envi­ron­men­tal fields.

    “Today, here in the heart of New York Harbor, we are taking a giant leap toward a cleaner, greener, more prosperous future for every New Yorker,” Mayor Adams said at the announcement. “This is a place for every New Yorker to learn and engage with the environment, because all of us are in this together.” 

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    Campus buildings will run entirely on solar generated electricity.
    (SOM/Brick Visual)

    A Historic Location

    Governors Island is a former military outpost dating back to the Revolutionary War. Most of its 172 acres is made up of landfill, created from harbor dredging and subway excavation. The Coast Guard moved off the island in 1966, leaving several institutional buildings and officer’s homes behind. 

    The federal government transferred ownership of the island to New York City in 2003 with the exception of 22 acres that are still maintained by the National Park Service. Uninhabited and accessible only by ferry, the island was opened to the public in 2005.

    Today Governors Island is mostly parkland, some of which is given over to a luxury glamping site offering spectacular views of Lower Manhattan. A public maritime high school occupies a few of the former Coast Guard buildings, drawing the most daily visitors. Many of the school’s 500 faculty, staff and students work closely with the Billion Oyster Project, a nonprofit also based on the island, working to restore the harbor by replenishing its depleted oyster beds.  

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    Former military barracks will be repurposed for use in the Exchange.
    (David Kidd)

    Built for Climate Resiliency

    As envisioned by the architectural firm Skid­more, Owings & Mer­rill, the final design of the Exchange was selected from three proposals that were considered for the site. Plans call for two new buildings as well as the restoration and adaptive reuse of 170,000 square feet of space with­in existing his­toric structures. Utilizing sus­tain­able design and construction, these spaces will serve to accommodate class­rooms, research labs, exhi­bi­tion space, stu­dent hous­ing, hotel rooms and meeting space. 

    When completed, structures in the Exchange will be the first in New York City to meet the standards of the Living Building Challenge, an international sustainable building certification program. The new campus will also be one of the first projects in the country to achieve True Zero Waste certification, with 95 percent of waste diverted from landfills. 

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    Exchange structures will be built using mass timber construction which has a lighter carbon footprint than concrete or steel.
    (SOM/Brick Visual)
    Collected rainwater and treated wastewater will supply all of the Exchange’s nonpotable water demands. One hundred percent of electricity used will be generated onsite. The entire island will be a test bed for resilient coastal landscapes, including a new 43-acre park that is designed to address rising sea levels. 

    Construction of the project is slated to begin in 2025 at a cost of $700 million. Initial funding will come from previously allocated capital funding, the Simons Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies and a consortium of donors at no additional cost to city taxpayers. The first phase is expected to open in 2028. 

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    With plans to double the student population, the Harbor School will be an active partner with the Exchange.
    (David Kidd)

    A Mission to Educate

    With a coalition of postsecondary partners, led by Stony Brook University, the primary goals of the Exchange are to further climate research and to educate and prepare New Yorkers for the green jobs of the future. To that end, the new Exchange campus is expected to house hundreds of college students. An expansion of the existing Harbor School is already well underway, adding additional buildings and students. 

    Brian Reagor, a director at the island-based Billion Oyster Project, is looking forward to an influx of young environmentalists. “It’s going to provide a diverse and experienced pool of potential supporters for our work,” he says. “We think it'll open up an entirely new career path, or dozens of new career paths, for the students of the city. We're excited to be coupled with the Harbor School and the Exchange.”
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    Governors Island is accessible only by ferry. A new hybrid-powered ferry is planned for the Exchange.
    (David Kidd)
    David Kidd is a photojournalist and storyteller for Governing. He can be reached at
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