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St. Leo joins school in bid for funds

Saint Leo University's big plans for the future might be about to spread outside campus limits.

After a pitch from university business director Frank Mezzanini, town commissioners on Monday night agreed to send a letter of support for the university's bid for $5-million of federal money that could help build a parking garage on campus and widen State Road 52 at the school's entrance.

"We've got poorly configured roads to go in and out," Mezzanini said. "That area is becoming extremely congested."

Mezzanini told commissioners the university plans to enter its request soon, possibly this week. He said the proposal should have appeal to the government because the campus is an official shelter for up to 2,800 people _ including more than 1,000 special medical needs patients _ in case of a hurricane.

In addition, he said, the campus has big plans for community outreach in the future, including updating and opening the library to the public and building an indoor theater and an outdoor amphitheater. Both theaters _ probably four or five years away from construction _ are expected to draw crowds and fill a community need, he said.

Under a plan presented to commissioners, the university is looking to widen SR 52 across the top of the hill at the school's entrance. The work would add turn lanes for motorists entering the school and move the guard house and campus entrance back from the highway.

The full plan also includes a three-level, 200-space parking garage on campus, two new campus roads, drainage improvements, and burying power lines. The project is expected to cost nearly $6-million, with the university putting up $1-million.

Mezzanini said the request would have to find its way into the federal budget through the legislative process.

The university last year embarked on a 20-year improvement plan. Included are new student facilities, dormitories, infrastructure improvements, a library update, theaters and parking.

To help pay for the work, the school this year announced its first capital and endowment campaign, hoping to raise up to $20-million through donations.

Including grants, gifts and loans, the total project could reach $35-million. About $8-million of the total project would be placed in an endowment to pay for student aid, athletic scholarships, endowed teaching positions and other programs.

Internet users can view construction of the new dormitories through a live "Web cam" at www.stleo.edu.

In other business at the St. Leo Town Commission meeting Monday, county stormwater division manager JoEllyn Miller said an agreement negotiated with the town after years of discussion could see paving start on bumpy Wichers Road in the next six months.

Under the agreement, the town agreed to pay $58,000 to pave the 1,400 feet of road inside city limits and subsidize the cost of paving another 4,700 feet in the unincorporated county.

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