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NEWBERY ‒ Alachua County and UF/IFAS held a groundbreaking ceremony to celebrate the beginning of the construction for the new county extension office headquarters in Newberry at the former Canterbury Equestrian Showplace site at 23100 Newberry Road.

Construction of the facility and auditorium is scheduled to be finished by November 2021. The auditorium will have seats for 300 to 400 people and a state-of-the-art teaching kitchen for cooking. The kitchen will be available for 4-H and nutrition classes that will be offered to the public.

The current equestrian facilities will be incorporated in the IFAS program. Not only will residents in Alachua County be able to take classes, but they will also have the opportunity to participate in extension programs and 4-H events, as well as Master Gardener and Youth Fair training. The building will also house six extension faculty agents, three county staff, and one 4-H program assistant. The auditorium can be divided into three meeting rooms, allowing for different programs to occur simultaneously. The property will also be used as the new location for Alachua County Fairgrounds and will host the various events that happen there.

The project is a partnership between the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners and the University of Florida IFAS in coordination with the City of Newberry. The creation of this project has taken 40 years according to former Alachua County Commissioner Lee Pinkoson. “They kept it together with baling wire, duct tape and chewing gum, but their perseverance was ultimately rewarded, and here we are today” he said at the groundbreaking.

Other speakers at the event included IFAS Vice President Dr. Scott Angle, State Representative Chuck Clemons, Newberry Mayor Jordan Marlowe, and UF/IFAS Alachua County Extension Director Dr. Cynthia B. Sanders.

Several locations had been discussed over the years for both the IFAS Extension office and a new location for the fairgrounds. Since the early 2000s Alachua County has planned to move the fairgrounds, in part so that its current location by the airport could serve as a business and commercial center that would be the impetus for economic development along the Waldo Road corridor.

In 2018 the Alachua County Commission voted to relocate the county fairgrounds and extension services to Newberry. Another five acres was purchased by the City of Newberry for $1 million, using Wild Spaces and Public Places funds, and will be the site of the new extension office. Wild Spaces and Public Places is a one-half percent sales tax collected between 2017 and 2024 to protect environmentally sensitive lands and to create, improve and maintain parks and recreational facilities.

Funding for this project came from Alachua County, the City of Newberry and a Florida Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services grant. The total cost of the project is $20.5 million, Alachua County Manager Michele Lieberman said. The county provided $13 million of its Tourist Development Tax and General Fund dollars for the project, while Newberry provided $1.5 million. The grant from the State of Florida Department of Agriculture provided $400,000.

“IFAS is number two globally for agricultural and natural resources research, so this is a powerhouse of an organization and of a university,” UF/IFAS Vice President Dr. Scott Angle said. “Agriculture is a driving force in Florida’s overall economy, as well as the local economy in Alachua County.”

Alachua County Extension Director Dr. Cynthia B. Sanders said the UF/IFAS Extension Alachua County will provide county residents with new programs and opportunities. “No matter where we are in the county, we are going to serve all citizens,” Sanders said. “We have been on the east side of the county for 40 years, and we served everybody here in Newberry, Alachua, Micanopy, Waldo, LaCrosse, and we will continue to do that at our new location.”

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