On Tuesday July 19, 2011, a fire at the Austin Cary Forest completely consumed our SFRC Conference Building and all of its contents. Built in 1986, the Conference Center had been used by SFRC students, faculty, and friends and also by the broader community in Gainesville and North Florida. Every year more than 7,000 people from numerous organizations utilized the building for their special events such as Women’s Club, Alachua County Commission, Alachua County Sheriff, Gainesville City Council, Santa Fe College, other community events and private weddings. The Conference Center served as a place where people could have their event in a serene forest, enjoy the lake and also learn a little about why forests are important in their lives. It connected people from all walks of life with the SFRC, Florida’s forests and all of the benefits they provide.We expect to increase the users from 7,000 to 25,000 annual users.
Immediately after the building burned a Building Restoration Planning Committee was formed comprised of faculty, staff, architects and planners. The committee was charged with learning from users in the last few years the answer to three critical questions for planning a new building.
Adding upon this information from users and inspiration from the outpouring of support from alumni and community, as well as the overwhelming enthusiasm to create a new learning facility that will serve future generations, the Planning Committee set about to evolve a building concept reflecting the enhance need. In the meantime, a Development Committee was formed to begin planning strategies for raising the money for the replacement building. As the building lost was built by donors and volunteers, this building was intended to follow a similar path.
On April 6, 2013, SFRC held the Groundbreaking Ceremony for the Austin Cary Learning Center. Thanks to the generous support of hundreds of donors, including the University of Florida and IFAS, we are proud and grateful to hold the Dedication and opening of the $2 million Learning Center on April 5, 2014!
In late 2017, the Austin Cary Forest Learning Center was dedicated by the family of Roland T. Stern and named in his honor.
Read about our Donors.