Look at the mounds of dirt, the half-dozen pieces of heavy equipment and the five buildings rising from the former agricultural land east of U.S. 19 and it is easy to share the view of a Hernando industrial recruiter and the Wesley Chapel community. Both are enthused about new collegiate opportunities.
The campus for Mike McHugh, Hernando County's business development director, is on a wish list. He has suggested the county acquire land to help lure a four-year university as a way to boost the educational level of the county's workforce and to further economic development in Hernando.
The campus for Wesley Chapel and central Pasco is closer to reality. Pasco-Hernando Community College just closed on 60 acres of donated land with the goal of turning a portion of the Porter family ranch into the college's fifth full-service campus by 2013.
Before that happens, however, comes the task of completing the college's fourth campus in Spring Hill. Situated off Beverly Court in Hernando, but just 3.5 miles north of the Little Road and U.S. 19 intersection in Pasco, this five-building center — with two others for storage and utilities — will serve both counties. Already, 2,000 students from in and around Spring Hill are enrolled at PHCC and as many as 1,000 more are considered potential students or now travel to another campus at Ridge Road or in Brooksville.
Classes begin Aug. 23. In the meantime, as many as 200 construction workers each day are turning nearly 8,000 yards of concrete, 260 tons of structural steel and almost 57 miles of voice and data cable into 103,000 square feet of classrooms, science and business labs, offices, meeting space and storage. So far, more than 130,000 hours of labor have gone into the $46 million project since work began more than a year ago.
One chilly morning last week, the PHCC provided a tour of the construction site to college trustees, administrators and St. Petersburg Times journalists. The structures — two classroom buildings, a library, a multipurpose/conference center and an administration/student development building — are topped by angled, green-colored steel roofs and they will have red brick exteriors along the bottom levels. The buildings surround dirt that will become a courtyard — the traditional college quad — with landscaping, benches and green space meant to invite social interaction.
Workers are in various stages of sanding, hanging drywall, adding texture and painting. The interior paint is up already in some of the buildings, with green accent walls green in the classrooms and yellow in the offices. The 10 classrooms each have room for 36 students.
The library features a large, atriumlike central room, an oversized staircase and eight vertical windows — stacked in two rows of four — facing west. Each of the top windows is slightly taller than the next, giving a tiered or staircase effect to the wall of glass.
"Wow,'' said Bonnie M. Clark upon entering the library. She's the associate provost who will oversee the Spring Hill campus, "This is the 'wow' building and it's not even done.''
Clark has her own lengthy to-do list to tackle. By June, she must hire nine full-time faculty, 40 to 50 adjuncts, and 20 support staff. Ten employees plan to transfer from other campuses and many of the part-time teachers are already at other PHCC sites, but significant work remains, including hiring for the key positions of assistant dean of student development and a plant manager.
The college is only using about a third of the available space on the 52-acre site, but construction crews are installing the roads and utilities to accommodate future expansion. Consider this the first phase of a 20-year plan.
That is the kind of thinking that should please McHugh and others of a similar mind. PHCC President Katherine Johnson said the college has no immediate plans to seek four-year status, a la St. Pete College, but its working agreements with, among others, the University of South Florida, Saint Leo University and now Kettering University mean PHCC graduates can have a seamless transition into those four-year programs.
In other words, a nifty place to enhance the educational levels of the area's workforce already exists, and it's about to improve significantly come August.