WESLEY CHAPEL — Robert Judson remembers when a Pasco-Hernando Community College campus was only a dream.
"Prospective students would ask 'Where is PHCC?' " he said. "Where is the campus? It didn't exist yet. We taught out of storefronts. We taught out of Saint Leo (University)."
Judson, who started with the school in 1972, was one of the original employees. He began as a psychology teacher and counselor and rose through the ranks to become president in 1995. During the 10 years he held that position, Judson helped lay the groundwork for two new campuses, one in Spring Hill that opened in 2010 and the newest, the Porter campus, which is set to open Jan. 13.
Last week, Judson toured the new campus along with Pasco County Commission Chairman Ted Schrader and PHCC trustees Len Johnson, Jeanne Gavish and Ed Blommel, as well as J.D. Porter and Bill Porter, members of the ranching family who donated 60 acres for the project southeast of the Shops at Wiregrass.
The campus features four floors built above a three-floor parking deck equipped with an elevator to the indoor areas. The high-rise design is being billed by the college as the first of its kind in Florida. It also is built with green design techniques and uses LED lighting and tanks that freeze and store chiller water for the air conditioning system.
"You don't have to get wet if it's raining," said Trent Hamilton, senior superintendent for Skanska USA Building Inc., which is handling the construction for the 116.000-square-foot project.
The college features a classroom building linked by a plaza to the library building. It boasts a total of 10 classrooms, four computer labs, four science labs and eight health labs. A full-service library, conference center and a career and testing center also are housed on campus. Soft green and beige hues coat the interior walls of the brick and stucco building.
"On a clear day, you can see the dome," said Katherine Johnson, PHCC's current president, referring to the view from the top floor that reveals the top of Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg.
From a classroom on the building's southeast side, observers can make out the downtown Tampa skyline.
But it's the programs that excite college officials the most. The health labs are made to mimic a hospital, with a nurses' station and patient beds that will hold mannequins for students to practice on.
In addition to nursing, classes will cover a number of disciplines such as business administration, information technology and those that lead to an associate's degree.
The college hopes in August to begin offering its first four-year degrees — a bachelor of science in nursing and a bachelor of applied sciences in supervision and management, said Stan Giannet, who will serve as provost of the Porter campus.
When the accrediting agency approves the four-year programs, the college hopes to change its name to Pasco-Hernando State College.
"New building, new name, new programs," Johnson said with a smile.
At the end of the tour, her predecessor was also smiling.
"I am very pleased with what I see here," said Judson, who around 1999 began discussing the possibility of a Wesley Chapel campus over breakfasts with Don Porter at the Interstate 75 Cracker Barrel.
"I'm impressed with the concept of going up, as opposed to taking more land."