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St. Petersburg College agrees to use reserves for two building projects

LARGO — St. Petersburg College leaders last week agreed to designate up to $18.4 million in reserve funds to help pay for two projects — the new Midtown Educational Center in St. Petersburg and a new library for the Clearwater campus.

SPC's budget staff recommended using reserves because of a decline in the state fund that pays for school construction projects.

The college doesn't anticipate receiving state Public Education Capital Outlay funding for any major construction projects in the near future, said Doug Duncan, the college's senior vice president of administrative/business services and information technology.

At last week's SPC Board of Trustee's meeting, Duncan presented scenarios for using the reserves, but the trustees did not commit to any specific funding scenario.

Trustee Ken Burke had questions about what would be the best strategy to fund the projects, which total $27 million.

And trustee Deveron Gibbons, an advocate for the Midtown campus, said he also wanted assurances that the college has a plan to fund the new Clearwater campus library. He's toured the current library, and said, "This building, if we're not careful, will fall down around us."

The 47-year-old library needs a new roof, new air-conditioning system and a slew of upgrades. SPC wants to build a new $12 million, 38,000-square-foot library. But when that will happen and how it will be funded is unclear. One scenario involved funding the construction with a 20-year bond, but college president Bill Law said he's not confident Gov. Rick Scott will authorize such bonds.

There's a good possibility the library will be built on land just west of the campus purchased from Faith United Church of Christ, said Susan Reiter, vice president of facilities planning and institutional services. But a definite location hasn't been selected and an architect hasn't been hired.

"In Midtown we have all of those things tied down," she said.

The 45,000-square-foot, three-story Midtown project will be built on land leased from the city of St. Petersburg at 22nd Street and 13th Avenue S. The college hopes to open it by fall of 2013.

Meanwhile, another factor could change the bottom line of the library project. College officials and the city of Clearwater have been talking about the possibility of a joint-use partnership, where the new library could be used by SPC students and the public.

Clearwater library director Barbara Pickell said the city is open to exploring a partnership because it wants to expand and upgrade its East Branch, which is less than a mile from the SPC campus. But she said they may face challenges coordinating funding and timelines.

And if they decide to partner, Pickell said, there will be other factors to consider. The college library caters to its students, she said, while the city serves the greater community, including children.

SPC has joint-use libraries on its Gibbs and Seminole campuses and those are "working really well," Reiter said.

Lorri Helfand can be reached at lorri@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4155.

St. Petersburg College agrees to use reserves for two building projects 02/25/12 [Last modified: Saturday, February 25, 2012 3:31am]

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