ST. LEO — The first person to receive a degree from Saint Leo University back in the 1890s earned a master of accounts.
Since that time, the School of Business at the private Catholic university in east Pasco has grown into one of the larger business programs in the country, with thousands of students at satellite locations and distance learning programs. The majority of Saint Leo's students pursue business degrees.
One thing Saint Leo hasn't had, though, is a building dedicated to business education. The faculty and the classes have been, as president Arthur F. Kirk Jr. put it, "scattered to the wind."
That's all about to change.
This spring, school leaders will break ground on a 50,000-square-foot, high-tech School of Business that will greet visitors as they enter the campus off of State Road 52.
"This will gather up (business faculty and classes) and put them in one place for the first time," Kirk said.
It's one of three big construction projects coming to the campus. Also in the works are a new 200-bed student dormitory and a parking garage out by the sports fields, each of which is to begin construction in about a year.
The university is seeking a $22 million backstop loan from the state's Higher Education Facilities Financing Authority, which will have a public hearing on the deal Tuesday at the university. Officials don't expect to use much of the loan, though, as they're intending to rely on private contributions to support the projects.
There's no penalty for not using the funds, so the loan is just the university's way of hedging its bets.
The construction projects all come as part of Saint Leo's long-range plan for growth.
The university added residence halls in 2003 and 2005, and purchased apartments for students in 2006.
"But we are at capacity," Kirk said. "We also are at academic capacity. We've got faculty offices in where there were never meant to be offices. Let's put it that way."
The number of Saint Leo faculty has doubled since 2002, in response to rising demand for the school's courses at the campus, at its education centers around the country and through its growing online program. By adding a School of Business building and centralizing that discipline, other departments also will be able to relocate in a more organized fashion for students, Kirk said.
The dorm, meanwhile, should allow Saint Leo to grow its campus enrollment, which was 1,744 in the fall, by close to 260 when it opens in summer 2011.
One thing remains certain, though, even as Saint Leo University aims big. It won't sacrifice the wide open green spaces that give the campus its relaxing and welcoming feel.
"We love the fact that we have the green space we have," Kirk said, "and we want to keep it that way."
Saint Leo plans to break ground for its new School of Business building on April 29, in connection with its graduation weekend.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.