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$14.3 million gift from Jerry Frautschi for visitor and education center at nature preserve
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$14.3 million gift from Jerry Frautschi for visitor and education center at nature preserve

Madison philanthropist Jerry Frautschi is donating $14.3 million to kick off fundraising to build a visitor and education center at the Lakeshore Nature Preserve on the UW-Madison campus.

The Lakeshore Nature Preserve Frautschi Center “will showcase UW–Madison’s commitment to sustainability and support hands-on experiential learning and research for more than 25 academic programs, in addition to serving as a new asset to environmental education for the community,” the university said in a statement.

“My family has lived in Madison since the 1800s, and we feel a great sense of responsibility to give back to the city and community that we love,” Frautschi said in a statement in the UW announcement. “I am pleased that I am able to carry on my family’s tradition of philanthropy and community service and that visitors will have a welcoming gathering place with improved access to the trails that line the lakeshore.”

Nestled at the entrance of the 300-acre UW-Madison Lakeshore Nature Preserve, which includes Picnic Point and the Lakeshore Path, the center will provide educational and support services for an estimated 149,000 yearly visitors, as well as providing classroom and bathroom access.

The proposed 10,000-square-foot center would support research in the nature preserve conducted by 25 academic departments and support educational outreach efforts for the land that effectively makes up about a third of the UW-Madison campus, according to university architect Peter Schlecht.

UW-Madison plans to raise money for the entire $16.8 million cost of the project, with Frautschi’s gift covering most of it. The university also is launching an additional $5 million fundraising effort to support ongoing operations and programming at the center.

Construction on the facility is scheduled to start in 2025 and the center is scheduled to open in 2026.

The building would be powered by renewable energy, with plans for it to generate more energy than it uses, through solar panels and geothermal heating and cooling systems. It would be surrounded by a native plant “bioswale,” or ditches filled with vegetation that can collect and remove pollution from stormwater.

The center will serve as the new “front door” to the 300-acre natural area on the south shore of Lake Mendota, according to the university. Plans also call for improving the pedestrian crossing and entry to the parking area off University Bay Drive.

“We are fortunate to have such beautiful natural spaces on campus for recreation, research and education,” UW–Madison Chancellor Jennifer Mnookin said in a statement. “And we are exceptionally fortunate for Jerry and his family’s generosity and their commitment to creating this welcoming, accessible and sustainable space for our students, employees and visitors.”

The site of a planned nature outreach center is outside the entrance to Picnic Point on the Lakeshore Nature Preserve on the UW-Madison campus.

The university said the center will provide an accessible upper-level deck to allow views into the preserve to the north, across University Bay to the southeast and toward the Class of 1918 Marsh to the south. New bicycle and pedestrian paths will maintain routes through the preserve. A new B-Cycle station also will be located where a new pedestrian path leads into the preserve from the main bike and pedestrian route.

“UW–Madison is a steward of a huge range of land resources, research stations, buildings and properties, but none are so iconic, publicly loved and universally experienced as our lakeshore,” Paul Robbins, dean of the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, said in a statement. “A new center at the Lakeshore Nature Preserve will create unprecedented opportunities for community engagement and public education. This is hugely exciting for everyone.”

The Frautschi family connection to the preserve began 34 years ago when Jerry and his brother, John, purchased what was then known as “Second Point” along Lake Mendota’s shoreline. The property was in danger of being developed at the time.

The brothers paid $1.5 million for the land and then gave the property to their father for Christmas in 1988. The Frautschis renamed the land “Frautschi Point” and donated it to the University of Wisconsin. The gifted land connected the western and eastern ends of UW’s Lake Mendota shoreline, creating what ultimately would become the Lakeshore Nature Preserve.

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