WESLEY CHAPEL — Elsa Felix strolled through the plaza lined with brick pavers as she changed classes at the new Pasco-Hernando Community College Porter Campus.
"It really feels like a university," said Felix, 20, an accounting major who had attended classes previously at the Dade City campus. "It doesn't feel like a community college anymore."
The new campus, with its three-story parking deck and views of the downtown Tampa skyline, had its first classes Monday, with more than 1,000 students.
Crews were still putting finishing touches on parts of the campus, but college officials did their best to make students feel at home by handing out campus maps and free snacks. They led tours through the earth-toned buildings, which sit on top of the parking garage. Faculty went over some of the features of the campus as they handed out syllabi.
"They did an excellent job," said Angel Billington, a 17-year-old Sunlake High School senior who is taking classes through the dual enrollment program the college has with the Pasco County School District. She especially liked that televisions rather than projector screens are used for visual presentations.
Students weren't the only ones excited.
"I've waited 10 years for this," said Jennifer Wiatrowski, a biology professor whose lab is on the top floor. The Wesley Chapel mom, who previously commuted to the New Port Richey campus, will save on day care costs because she can pick up her two sons right after school.
The $45 million campus, which was built over the past two years, has been planned since the early part of 2000, when then-president Robert Judson met with Don Porter of the Wiregrass Ranch family to see about securing land. The family donated 60 acres.
The campus features four stories built above the parking deck, equipped with an elevator to the indoor areas. The high-rise design is being billed by the college as the first of its kind in Florida. It also is built with green design techniques and uses LED lighting and tanks that freeze and store chiller water for the air-conditioning system.
The campus boasts 10 classrooms, four computer labs, four science labs and eight health labs. Also included are a full-service library, a conference center and a career and testing center. Soft green and beige hues coat the interior walls of the brick and stucco building.
The plaza links the classrooms to the library.
Provost Stan Giannet said the first day ran smoothly. The airy new campus was so bright he came out wearing his Gucci shades. Giannet said his goal is to make the college a community center.
"We want to make this a hub for intellectual and cultural events," he said.
In addition to nursing, classes will cover a number of disciplines, such as business administration, information technology and those that lead to an associate's degree.
The college hopes to begin offering its first four-year degrees in August — a bachelor of science in nursing and a bachelor of applied sciences in supervision and management.
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Today, it will unveil the sign with its new name — Pasco-Hernando State College — to reflect its new four-year degree programs.
Among the students are some Hillsborough residents.
Alana Arcese, 28, of New Tampa said the new campus is more convenient than traveling to Hillsborough Community College. The mother of two said it is a perfect place for her to begin her career change to medicine.
It's also a great place for her 19-year-old sister, Carlynn, to start her college education. Carlynn was accepted at Flagler College, but wasn't ready to live so far from home with strangers. The new campus allows her to stay near family. Plus, there are no seasoned upperclassmen to impress.
"Everybody is new here," Alana said.