Weyerhaeuser grant benefits sustainability center

Whitefish Superintendent Heather Davis Schmidt and School Board chairman Shawn Watts accept a check from Weyerhaeuser Montana resource manager Tom Ray. (Photo courtesy Whitefish School District)

The Whitefish School District has been awarded a $10,000 grant from the Weyerhaeuser Giving Fund for the Center for Sustainability and Entrepreneurship, a multi-use outdoor learning center set to open next winter.

The grant will go toward construction costs for the facility and was set to be accepted at the Tuesday School Board meeting.

“We are honored to receive this grant and excited Weyerhaeuser shares in our vision of experiential learning and specifically teaching forest management best practices as part of our curriculum,” Superintendent Heather Davis Schmidt said.

The sustainability center is planned to be a state-of-the-art, net-zero facility, offering applied learning experiences for K-12 students in forestry, agriculture, energy, natural resources and entrepreneurship. The project, spearheaded by teachers Eric Sawtelle and Nikki Reed and their students, is set to include classrooms, laboratories, a greenhouse, production gardens and orchards and an experimental forest, all located on a 3-acre piece of land adjacent to Whitefish High School on East Fourth Street.

The estimated cost for the facility is $2.1 million, which has been secured in private donations. That total covers both building and maintenance costs as well as program start-up costs. Construction is set to begin in April with the center open for use by next winter.

Weyerhauser employs more than 500 people in three mills in Montana, with lumber and plywood mills in Kalispell and a medium-density fiberboard mill in Columbia Falls. The goal of the Giving Fund is to help residents living in areas near the mills.

“The mission of the Weyerhaeuser Giving Fund is to improve the quality of life in communities where Weyerhaeuser has a presence,” Weyerhaeuser Montana resource manager Tom Ray said. “Since 1948, the company’s philanthropy directed more than $183 million to the communities where Weyerhaeuser employees work, live and play.”

The district is also set to receive a $30,000 grant from the Sustainable Forestry Initiative to go toward the sustainability center. SFI is an independent, nonprofit organization that helps maintain, oversee and improve more than 280 million acres of land according to the organization’s set of standards, which emphasizes conservation, improved forest health and sustainability. The grant is for $10,000 each year for three years.

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