Tallahassee Community College President Jim Murdaugh, trustees and supporters celebrated the opening of the Wakulla Environmental Institute Monday, capping nearly four years of planning.

And, during the ceremony, Susan Payne Turner, a Crawfordville resident and executive vice president of Prime Meridian Bank, announced the donation of the William M. and Irene C. Payne Family Gift to the TCC Foundation.

Turner wouldn’t specify the amount of the donation, but Heather Mitchell, TCC’s vice president for resource development and executive director of the TCC Foundation, described it as “a significant gift.”

“It’s the first gift to the Wakulla Environmental Institute and it will be used to support scholarships and student programs,” a beaming Mitchell said.

Turner, who serves on the TCC Foundation board, said her family goes back generations in Wakulla County. She, along with her mother and two brothers, all graduated from TCC before furthering their education elsewhere.

“This is a way to give back because so many paved the way for us and others,” Turner said. “It’s one of the biggest things to happen in Wakulla County for a long time.”

More than 350 people, including state Sen. Bill Montford, attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony and reception at the WEI. The 9,350-square-foot center is located at 170 Preservation Way in Crawfordville, three miles south of the TCC Wakulla Center, which will continue to be housed inside the Centennial Bank Building.

The institute cost $6 million, with $4.5 million coming from the Florida Legislature and $1.5 million from the federal government. It includes two classrooms, a laboratory equipped with water, electricity and propane at each table and a prep area for professors, along with administrative offices.

“A lot of planning took place before we could do anything,” Murdaugh said above the din of people sampling fresh oysters harvested from the college’s oyster cultivating program and enjoying bluegrass tunes.

Murdaugh said the vision of the center was to develop an academic program to take advantage of Wakulla’s natural attractions and contribute to its economic health.

“We are amazed at the support of the people in this community and their philanthropy to the extent they want to use their philanthropy to grow this institution.”