Adreanna Marks had yet to take her first class at Pasco-Hernando Community College's new campus, but on Thursday she gave a tour like a guide striving for an A in enthusiasm. Marks, 18, led a gaggle of students and some parents on a journey through many of the 103,000 square feet that comprise the $46 million campus nestled on a small rise just east of U.S. 19, a couple of miles north of County Line Road.
The first classes of the first semester start first thing Monday morning, and Marks and her fellow student ambassadors aimed to get people acquainted with the new space.
"I love these things," Marks said as she walked up to a table in a student lounge and popped up an electric and data portal — one of dozens built into furniture throughout the campus so students can power up laptop computers.
Sporting a beige PHCC polo tucked into a black skirt, the 2010 Springstead High School graduate with the brilliant smile drew attention to the earth tones and vibrant yellows and greens of the walls and furniture.
"It's very colorful and bright," she said. "I love it.''
Marks led the group through the heart of campus. Not a quad, exactly, but a circular area dotted with plants and palm trees around which the five main buildings sit like houses tucked into a cul-de-sac.
She made sure they knew where to find the six computer labs, including the one available to students any time of day: "This is kind of your little getaway to do your homework."
She pointed out the expansive vistas of Hunters Lake from eastern-facing windows of a the two classroom buildings. She made sure they noticed the grassy knoll overlooking the lake.
"Go lie on the hill, relax, look at the stars if you have a late class," she said.
About 45 minutes after the tour began, Marks stopped the group under the soaring, three-story ceilings of the 20,000-square-foot library and told them to enjoy the campus to the fullest.
"I hope you love it as much as I do," she said. "I hope you feel like you're at home now."
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The opening marks a major milestone for the college founded in 1967. The first campus opened in Dade City in 1975 and expanded to Brooksville, New Port Richey and Spring Hill.
In the last few years, a spike in enrollment stressed the already-cramped Spring Hill center on Spring Hill Drive.
The new campus, some 10 years in the making, will open with an enrollment of at least 1,400 and perhaps as many as 1,800, associate provost Bonnie Clark said. Students can take all the courses they need for an associate of arts degree, and the college will poll students to find out what courses they'd like to see offered on the campus, Clark said. Some new courses will likely be added for the spring semester.
"It's built for students," she told a group of students and their families before a campus tour Thursday morning.
And still somewhat under construction. The contractor, Skanska USA, got a punch list on Wednesday, Clark said as a worker in a bright orange and yellow vest caulked a window behind her.
Visitors dodged workers wielding paintbrushes, nail guns and vacuums. Books had yet to line shelves in the library, and faculty members worked to ready classrooms. Test tubes sat in boxes in a chemistry lab. Next door in the biology lab, plastic body parts sat at the ready — eyeballs the size of baseballs peering down from one shelf, a row of skinless disembodied arms reaching toward the ceiling on another.
Clark asked students to have patience and take pride in the campus.
"We hope in 10 years it will look as good as it does today so those people coming behind you have the same experience," she said.
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Students came away impressed.
"It's beautiful," said Mark Nash, a 45-year-old Spring Hill resident and student ambassador taking classes toward a second career in radiology. "It's easy to get around. They designed it well for student activities."
"It's got a great, homey feeling to it," said Jacob Witherall, 17, another ambassador taking four classes this fall on the way to an associate of arts degree. "It's a very peaceful environment."
Maribel Rivera of Spring Hill will start her third semester on Monday. Rivera, 19, said the new campus, with its abundant parking and spacious classrooms, is a blessing after the claustrophobia-inducing conditions of the old Spring Hill center.
"You were fitting 45 kids into a room that felt like it could fit 20," Rivera said.
As the lunch hour neared Thursday, bookstore manager Barbara Miller and a few staffers worked to stock the shelves for Monday's onslaught.
Miller worked for 17 years as an associate in the store on the Brooksville campus and said she got picked for the new job from several dozen candidates.
"Lucky," Miller said. "Very proud and happy and lucky."
Ed Sweda of New Port Richey is one of nine full-time faculty members based at the new campus. Sweda teaches public speaking and communications and until now had been based at the Brooksville campus.
By Thursday, Sweda's new office was just about ready. Blue and yellow plaster fish perched on the sill of a window overlooking the lake. His three daughters smiled at him from a photo tacked to a filing cabinet. A stack of syllabi sat at the corner of his desk.
"It's really spectacular to open five buildings at one time and have it done so well," Sweda said.
But buildings, books and cutting-edge technology can only go so far.
"It certainly is a warm and friendly environment," he said. "Now it's just a matter of how the faculty and students congeal. To me, that's really important. That glow, that fire, that's what's going to carry."
Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or email@example.com.
There's still time to register for classes at PHCC
Fall classes start Monday, but late registration extends through Aug. 27. Students interested in taking classes on the Spring Hill campus can register online or at the Brooksville, Dade City or New Port Richey campuses. For information on PHCC's Spring Hill campus, visit www.phcc.edu/springhill.