Like siblings who grow up sharing a bedroom until the time comes to get rooms of their own, Central Florida Community College and Lecanto High School are parting ways.
No longer will a building at the Lecanto school complex, which has housed the college and Lecanto High School for the past dozen years, be known by the awkward, bureaucratic title "joint-use facility."
Down the road at County Road 491 and Grover Cleveland Boulevard, CFCC officials are scurrying to get ready for the Aug. 26 opening of the Citrus County campus. There, top college leaders envision expanded programs, added educational and cultural opportunities and growing community involvement far into the next century.
A formal dedication before a variety of dignitaries is set for this week, and students and faculty are invited to an all-school convocation at 11 a.m. Aug. 27.
The public is invited to an open house 3-6 p.m. Sept. 22 to see the facility and meet many of those who made it possible. Tours will be conducted, and a reception is planned.
Provost and CFCC Vice President Frank Wright sees the move as an exciting change that demonstrates how far the college branch has come from its humble beginnings in 1984.
"I'm grateful for the people that had the vision and started the work. I get to benefit from the fruits of their labor," Wright said.
Building for the future
It did not take long to prove whether the joint-use experiment would work at the Lecanto school complex _ believed to be the state's first place where students could attend class from kindergarten through college on one site.
The shared space in the Lecanto High building quickly became cramped as college enrollment increased from 300 students the first year to 1,200 students for the fall 1995 semester.
The arrangement meant challenges for the campus _ space constraints, school bells, awkward interaction with younger students and an atmosphere that lacked a collegiate feel.
But it was a start, Wright said.
"It was really, truly an educational innovation at its time . . . a good idea that saved the taxpayers a lot of money," Wright said. "They did the very best that they could for that time. It's just that we've kind of outgrown it."
To accommodate the growing student population in recent years, every existing space that could house students was pressed into service at the joint-use facility _ down to a small storage closet on the building's main floor.
Most college students at the Lecanto site attended night classes. Day classes were limited because of the number of rooms the college could use during the day.
The new $4.5-million campus provides 44,000 square feet of indoor space, twice as much as the Lecanto site. The new campus thus can accommodate more day classes, Wright said.
If all the class spots were filled this fall at the new campus, Wright said, the college could handle 1,500 to 1,600 students. College designers have mapped out a master site plan that would house as many as 2,500 students when the campus is completed.
The first buildings on the 88-acre site have been ready for several months, allowing much of the move to take place throughout the summer.
Two two-story connected buildings will house all student facilities. Classroom areas feature improved computer and skills labs and two science labs with new equipment, which will allow the college to offer chemistry classes in Citrus.
One building will include a bookstore, welcome center, computer lab, library, learning lab and student center. The other will mostly have classroom space but will also include a multipurpose room and a wellness center.
The house on the property is undergoing renovations to provide space for college administrators, who spent much of the end of last week moving boxes into their new quarters.
College librarian Joan Williams joked last week about how the campus structures looked from the road.
"People say "Ooo, it looks like a penitentiary with a gun tower,' " she said while standing inside the undeveloped area that will someday be the campus courtyard. "No, that (the road) is the back. This is the front."
Citrus 20/20, in addition to helping the effort to outfit the library (see related story), is assisting the CFCC horticulture class on a joint beautification project for the campus grounds.
Student Sandra Miller says she is excited about what the new CFCC campus will offer her as she works on prerequisites to enter a nursing program.
Miller is excited not just about the new facilities and labs, but about "the whole new environment."
Justine Hausheer, staff assistant to Wright and a graduate of the CFCC Citrus campus, could not agree more. She recently described students' excitement to the CFCC college relations office: "They're going to actually feel like they've gone to college as opposed to 13th grade."
That sentiment of finally moving out of high school and into college has long permeated the CFCC branch in Citrus and has been one of the most difficult issues for Wright and his predecessors to overcome.
"The most important thing that we do is good teaching, and that's not going to change, but there are going to be things that we appreciate about the new facilities," Wright said. "It will be a lot easier to operate a college when you're in your own location."
For one thing, Wright said, he will be able to make decisions without always having to check with high school authorities.
"There are good things and bad things" about the end of the joint-use arrangement, he said. "But the most important thing to students is that they really will know they're at a college campus. They won't have all those high schoolers around . . . they won't have to walk into the bathrooms and find all the toilets filled up."
The college is not completely severing its ties to the Lecanto school complex.
The Curtis Peterson Auditorium, now operated by the high school, will still be used by the college when needed. So will athletic fields because while the new site has some athletic facilities, they aren't enough.
As soon as the college moves out of the Lecanto complex completely, the school district will begin remodeling to convert all of the previous college space to high school space. Under an agreement with CFCC, the school district will pay the college $700,000 over the next five years to be able to take over that once-shared space.
Wright believes history is repeating itself as he prepares to open the new campus for the fall semester. The new location will be full on the first day, he said.
"I'd like to be starting another building this fall," he said, quickly acknowledging the event will take awhile because of other financial considerations.
The new campus will open with six full-time instructors and about 40 adjunct instructors. "We've got a balance on full-time and part-time . . . although we're a little low on full-time," he said.
"I'd someday like to have 12 to 15 full-time faculty, but I wouldn't really expect them to agree to that," he said. "However, I will continue to ask. This year I asked for three full-time, and I got one."
The associate of arts degree program at the college allows students to transfer to four-year universities to complete their studies. The college also offers associate of science degrees in professional pilot technology, office technology, business management and accounting.
The college also has a certificate program in emergency medical technician training, and it will continue to offer an elementary education bachelor's degree program in conjunction with Saint Leo College.
The county's volunteer fire departments have also been talking to Wright about establishing a fire station and training academy on the campus, and Wright considers establishing a campus child-care center to be a priority.
Another new associate of science program could be offered in health information technology.
Wright said he is pushing for that program and for programs in business and technology, which would mirror the high school academies in place or planned in Citrus high schools.
Wright is also looking toward developing programs students could get at the Citrus campus and not at the main campus in Ocala. In other places, he said, such exclusive programs are what makes a branch campus thrive.
As the college's board of trustees prepares to select a new college president, Wright said he hopes whoever gets the board's approval understands that fact of life.
"If we have someone with that understanding of what a branch campus is about, that would be very good news for us," he said.
Five more buildings are included in the master plan for the CFCC Citrus campus, which is expected to be completed over the next 20 years.
The other buildings include a free-standing learning resources center, two more classroom buildings, a physical education complex and a new administration building. The current administration building would then be converted into a student activity center.
College officials predict that the first of those to-come buildings will likely be a learning resource center, but the timing depends on state funds and demonstrated need.
At a glance
Size: 44,000 square feet
Maximum student body size: 1,500 to 1,600, although that will grow when the campus building plan is complete
First day of classes: Aug. 26
_ The CFCC College Relations office and Times staff writer Ian James contributed to this report.