Auburn breaks ground on Tony and Libba Rane Culinary Science Center

Published: April 12, 2019
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Auburn University celebrated the construction of a culinary science center unlike any other in the world with a ceremonial groundbreaking on April 12.

“The Tony and Libba Rane Culinary Science Center is a symbolic representation of Auburn’s future,” said Auburn University President Steven Leath, “a future that is globally focused, service oriented and shapes the next generation of industry leaders.”

The 142,000-square-foot structure is distinct as it will blend an innovative learning environment with a luxury boutique hotel and restaurant. No other facility has a teaching hotel, teaching restaurant, a range of classrooms, demonstration and food production laboratories, a food hall, wine appreciation center, distilled spirits center and brewing science lab under one roof.

Such an educational platform will inspire students to plan, market, manage and evaluate a commercial hospitality operation, while at the same time provide them with cutting-edge opportunities to develop technical and leadership skills.

“This center will create one of the world’s premier environments in which to train students for the rapidly evolving hospitality industry,” said Trustee Raymond Harbert. “Through immersive, hands-on learning as well as unique opportunities to work with some of the world’s leading chefs and hospitality experts, Auburn students will gain invaluable experience in the culinary arts and hospitality management. In addition, the center will offer patrons unparalleled amenities and refined guest services.”

Creating a facility at Auburn that could address the growing hospitality industry and advance the instruction of students interested in culinary and hospitality careers began more than a decade ago when Martin O’Neill, head of the Department of Nutrition, Dietetics and Hospitality Management, and Hans van der Reijden, managing director of The Hotel at Auburn University and Dixon Conference Center, began benchmarking globally recognized programs and facilities.

“They consulted with a tremendous number of experts in the field, and they explored a variety of educational models, striving to envision what the future may bring to the world of hospitality and the culinary sciences,” said June Henton, dean of the College of Human Sciences. “As it turns out, all of this time was well spent because we have set our sights on creating a truly unique and world-class culinary center here at Auburn.”

Leath said Auburn responded to hospitality industry growth “the best way we know how — with premier academic programs and scholarly research that continues to shape our global footprint.

“This one-of-a-kind center is a natural next step for us. It stands to greatly advance our reputation as one of the country’s preeminent providers of hospitality education.”

Auburn University is home to Alabama’s only professionally accredited hospitality program. The new center will be a draw for students currently in top culinary programs in high schools in Alabama and across the nation.

Auburn’s plans for a culinary science center received significant encouragement in 2017 when James W. “Jimmy” Rane and the Rane family made a $12 million commitment to the building’s construction. Rane is a 1968 Auburn alumnus, longtime member of the Board of Trustees and chairman, president and chief executive officer of Great Southern Wood Preserving. The board later approved naming the facility in honor of his parents, Tony and Libba Rane.

Gifts to the College of Human Sciences, university general funds and revenue from the hotel, restaurant, a food hall and leased living units will cover the estimated project cost of $95.4 million. The Rane Culinary Science Center will be the first revenue-generating academic building at Auburn. The university seeks to raise an additional $13 million in philanthropic support through various naming opportunities within the building.

Trustee Rane said that his parents were passionate about hospitality, and “they loved to entertain.” Bestowing their names on a building dedicated to hospitality and culinary science was a true blessing for him and his family.

Henton said the naming of the center was especially meaningful to those in the college who had met Tony and Libba Rane.

“It is a great honor to be entrusted with this responsibility of carrying their legacy of ‘la famiglia’ going forward,” she said.

Construction of the Tony and Libba Rane Culinary Science Center at the corner of East Thach Avenue and South College Street will begin in the coming months and is expected to be complete in 2021.

Auburn University is a nationally ranked land grant institution recognized for its commitment to world-class scholarship, interdisciplinary research with an elite, top-tier Carnegie R1 classification and an undergraduate education experience second to none. Auburn is home to more than 30,000 students, and its faculty and research partners collaborate to develop and deliver meaningful scholarship, science and technology-based advancements that meet pressing regional, national and global needs. Auburn's commitment to active student engagement, professional success and public/private partnership drives a growing reputation for outreach and extension that delivers broad economic, health and societal impact. Auburn's mission to educate, discover and collaborate drives its expanding impact on the world.