ST. PETERSBURG — St. Petersburg College will debut its Douglas L. Jamerson Jr. Midtown Center on Saturday, a long-anticipated event that will elevate the school's presence in one of the county's poorest areas.
An all-day block party will mark the building's official opening and feature community leaders, including Mayor Rick Kriseman, as guest speakers. The college has poured about $15 million into the three-story building, which contains classrooms, science and computer labs and a career center.
Deveron Gibbons, a member of the SPC Board of Trustees, said he hopes the building's location at 1300 22nd St. S will encourage more residents of Midtown to pursue higher education.
"We are targeting young people of minority descent to go to college," Gibbons said. "We want to change the face of our community by educating everybody."
Organizers of Saturday's event will cordon off a portion of 22nd Street South to facilitate the block party atmosphere. Free barbecue will be provided. Local groups — including the Mt. Zion Progressive Missionary Baptist Choir and the Lakewood High School Jazz Band — will perform.
Although the fall semester begins Aug. 17, the building has been open since June 15 for academic advising. Provost Kevin Gordon said the center has received rave reviews so far.
"Everyone that's been to the building is just really excited," Gordon said. "Being able to have large classrooms and more course offerings — it's really building excitement."
Saturday's festivities will make it easier for prospective students to enroll. The college has waived its application fee at the event and will provide advising, career and financial aid services. At least 100 employees will be on hand.
About 600 students are enrolled for the coming semester, according to Gordon. But the school's goal is for the center to cast an even wider net.
Programs like Education Ecosystem will target middle school and high school students interested in college. Gordon said the program will invite students to get a flavor for the college experience.
Niki Johnson, president of the school's student government association, said enthusiasm for the new center is everywhere.
Thursday morning she was at Krispy Kreme sporting an SPC shirt when a man asked her, "When is the new building going to open?"
Johnson is a 34-year-old mother of two who decided to go back to college after having children. She knows the difficulties of juggling school with life. She hopes this campus will encourage people who "may have never even left St. Petersburg" to pursue an education.
"This campus will be a beacon for the community," Johnson said.
Contact Elizabeth Djinis at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727)-893-8913. Follow @djinisinabottle.