Ceremonial Ribbon Cutting to Officially Open The Water School 

Jusolyn Flower, Contributing Writer

After nearly half a decade of planning, The Water School is officially opening its new facility for students, professors and faculty with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and open house.

FGCU broke ground for The Water School on Nov. 21, 2019. Since then, almost $58 million has been dedicated to establishing the 4-story, 116,000-square-foot facility, making it the largest building on FGCU’s campus.

“I feel excited about the opening of this beautiful building, which provides an esthetic environment for students, faculty and our community to study issues that are foundational to the quality of life for all of us,” Associate Director of Community Partnerships Ann Cary said.

The Water School houses the Department of Ecology & Environmental Studies and the Department of Marine & Earth Sciences. Its role is to inform and educate the FGCU community through science.

Cary said that The Water School will impact the region and state by producing a workforce of FGCU graduates who can apply the theories and practices obtained in their programs to solve real-world problems. Graduates will address issues focused on sustainable water resource policies, the health effects of water quality and the disproportionate impact on communities of color and those experiencing economic disparity.

According to Chair and Associate Professor Kara Lefevre, The Water School will benefit FGCU by encouraging cross-disciplinary research and education to tackle environmental challenges such as land degradation, climate change and recent declines in biodiversity. 

“The Water School is a way to bring people together for that, and to train young people in the related fields of environmental, marine and earth sciences to be able to make a change,” Lefevre said. “By bringing together professors and students from many different departments and fields of study, The Water School will be an engine for collaborative learning and applied environmental research.”

She said The Water School’s contribution to environmental expertise will positively impact the surrounding community. 

“Southwest Florida is a beautiful and ecologically important area that people want to see better protected,” Lefevre said. 

Most of all, Lefevre hopes that during this time of rapid, regional and global change, students will feel inspired and supported to learn in The Water School.

Catie McElroy is an Environmental Studies major at FGCU. When she initially enrolled at FGCU, she heard about The Water School and was excited about it. She said that she waited almost a year for the building to open and is now grateful to finally take classes inside. 

“It’s been really nice taking all of my classes in the same building instead of having to travel all around campus,” said McElroy. 

FGCU sophomore Mackenzie Soltis said that before attending FGCU, she was waiting for The Water School to open.

“I remember getting on the orientation, since it was online due to Covid, and writing down a bunch of notes about The Water School and its benefits. I wanted to be a marine science major then, so I was super excited about it,” Soltis said. 

She described what the experience has been like so far while taking some of her classes in the new building.

“It has been very nice. It is not a far walk from the main campus classes. It is very beautiful and pleasing to the eye, both inside and outside,” Soltis said. “I enjoy how the classes are already set up for labs and that there are classrooms to study in or seats by the window to look at the surrounding area. The classes are science-based, so you can meet a lot of people in the halls with similar interests or the same major as you.”

Edwin Everham, Professor of Ecology and Environmental Studies, aims to see The Water School meet the regional research needs of Southwest Florida. He believes clean water resources are one of our most critical needs. 

“I am glad to be part of a research, education, and service organization that is striving to meet that need,” Everham said.

“The real promise of The Water School is the commitment to an interdisciplinary approach to solving our water resource challenges. The solutions are less science and engineering; more political, economic and social. We have to work together creatively to move us to a better future,” Everham said.

Instructor Chad Evers describes The Water School as his home and a place where he can collaborate with some of the best people at FGCU.

“It is nice to have a new office and teach in a new building, but I will end where I started. The Water School is great, and I am glad to be a part of it, but it is the people working, researching and learning in The Water School that make it a truly amazing place,” Evers said.

Although faculty and staff moved into The Water School in May and started classes in August, it is still all brand new. The grand opening will provide an opportunity for the community to see the building. 

The ceremony is set to take place Friday, Nov. 18 in the courtyard of Academic Building 9. It will feature a ribbon-cutting event at 11:00 a.m. and an open house from 11:30 a.m. until 1:00 p.m. The new facility will be open to all faculty, staff, nd students to visit the classrooms, labs and public spaces. 

Parking will be available in Garage 1, adjacent to the building. 

“What an exhilarating feeling to be part of something that went from a dream to an idea on paper, to a physical reality. This official opening is a testament to very hard work on the part of everyone involved in The Water School. Our Executive Director, Dr. Greg Tolley, deserves a huge shout-out for championing these efforts from start to finish,” Lefevre said.