|Rayonier Pitches in to Help UF Raise $1.5 million for New Austin Cary Forest Learning Center|
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — To help the University of Florida raise $1.5 million needed to build the new Austin Cary Forest Learning Center, the Jacksonville-based forest products company Rayonier has donated $75,000.
The donation was celebrated at a ceremony today in the 2,040-acre Austin Cary Forest, located about six miles northeast of Gainesville. It was attended by Rayonier executives and administrators from UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
The funds will support a 7,800 square-foot building that includes a spacious conference room, a classroom, library, kitchen, gallery and large wrap-around porch. It will include an elevated deck built out over the surface of Lake Mize. With high ceilings, clean lines and large timbers, the building is designed to complement its natural surroundings.
The learning center is needed to replace the Austin Cary Forest Conference Center that opened in 1986, remembered by thousands of current and former Alachua County residents as a place where UF classes met and special events were held. That building was destroyed by fire in July 2011.
News of the disaster inspired Rayonier executives to reach out to UF’s School of Forest Resources and Conservation, said Paul Boynton, president and CEO of the company.
“Rayonier has a long connection to the University of Florida, particularly IFAS and the School of Forest Resources and Conservation,” Boynton said. “We consider them great partners in the success of our company, and we’re proud to provide assistance to this effort.”
He noted that many graduates of the UF forest resources school are hired by Rayonier’s forest resources operation, one of the company’s three primary businesses. The others are real estate and production of high-performance fibers.
Jack Payne, UF senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources, said the new center will help UF/IFAS programs keep pace with the ever-evolving needs of forest landowners.
“Rayonier has come to expect the best from us, in terms of producing students who know the latest production technologies and challenges,” Payne said. “Their generous contribution helps ensure that our students continue to receive top-flight instruction and practical know-how through programs at Austin Cary.”
Fund-raising efforts have so far produced more than half the $1.5 million goal, said Tim White, director of the UF forest resources school.
“The silver lining to this situation has been the overwhelming generosity shown by our stakeholders, alumni and other friends,” White said. “It has been quite moving to have so many people contact the school to ask ‘how can I help?’”
In recent months, the Florida Farm Bureau and Plum Creek Foundation have made large donations to the building project, events celebrated with check-presentation ceremonies.
If fund-raising continues at its current pace, the full amount needed may be raised by the end of the year, White said. Groundbreaking for the project could happen as early as March 2013.
Administrators have set a goal of drawing 25,000 visitors to the learning center annually, for classes, outdoor youth programs, professional meetings and social events.