The doors of the former Gulf Side Motel in Cedar Key are painted vibrant shades of yellow, blue, green and red. They lead to empty spaces that were once an office and motel rooms and, in about 11 months, will be a research facility and student housing for the University of Florida.
By April 2017, the three-story building on the edge of the Gulf of Mexico will be UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences’ new Nature Coast Biological Station. The construction for the facility started Tuesday, said Jack Payne, UF/IFAS senior vice president of agriculture and natural resources.
UF/IFAS will fund $1.96 million of the station, UF/IFAS Facilities Planning & Operations Director Kevin Heinicka said.
The station will be an educational and research facility for UF students from multiple disciplines. The station will have a marine lab, public education area, classrooms, office space and wet lab for clam aquaculture and marine research.
“We’re really excited about having Cedar Key as the center for all the research we do along the nature coast,” Payne said.
While UF/IFAS is funding $1.96 million of the project, about $700,000 is still needed to complete the dorm spaces, educational aquarium and third floor classrooms at the station. Program coordinator for the Nature Coast Biological Station Mendy Allen said the need for these funds will not delay the completion date for the station.
The biological station is being built to improve natural resources up and down the nature coast, which is one of the most underdeveloped coastlines in the country, said Mike Allen, director of the Nature Coast Biological Station and also a professor in freshwater fisheries and ecology at UF.
“This is going to be a hub for researchers from across the university and all of our partner agencies,” he said. “It’s gonna be a place where they can come and work and do natural resource work in the nature coast on everything from wildlife to fish, to oysters to sea grass.”
Initially, UF/IFAS teamed up with Santa Fe College and the UF Office of the Provost to purchase the land to build a dock to house a UF research boat. The boat will transport students to and from an educational marine laboratory on Seahorse Key. This idea transformed into the plans for the Nature Coast Biological Station, Payne said.
The dorms will provide students who are studying at the station, the opportunity to stay overnight instead of traveling back and forth from Gainesville, which is about an hour and a half drive.
Grant Scholten and Justin Procopio, graduate students in the Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences Program, are two of the students who will use the station once it is complete. Scholten said they will be spending most of their time in the wet lab on the ground floor of the facility.
A wet lab typically has tanks that can hold water and have an aeration system, Scholten said.
“There’s a lot of opportunity and questions about our resources here in Cedar Key that are unanswered,” Procopio said. “This facility will give us a chance to look at those and explore in depth.”
Along with student researchers, UF extension agents, like Leslie Sturmer, will use the wet lab for research in their individual disciplines.
The station is collaborating with numerous affiliates including Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Wildlife Refuge System and the Lower Suwannee Water Management District.
“All the agencies that are involved with protecting this valuable coast have joined with us in this effort,” Payne said.
He said UF has been doing research in Cedar Key for years, but the station will provide more visibility to the projects and research.
Cedar Key Mayor Heath Davis agreed.
“I think it’ll be a piece of the puzzle that’s been needed for some time to complete the work that Cedar Key has done, as a city, with its resources that it has and all the great things that UF has done as far as research,” Davis said.