“The animal is alive,” said architect Frank Loreno about Florida Polytechnic University. “It’s extremely gratifying to know there’s a real desire for something excellent.”
Loreno represented Santiago Calatrava, the internationally known modern architect and designer of the $100 million Innovation, Science and Technology building, at the first general membership meeting of Florida Poly Vision on Nov. 29.
Nearly 80 of the more than 100 members of the group who contributed $500 to support the new university were joined by politicians and dignitaries. For many, it was the first opportunity to see how much progress has been made at the 530 acre site near Interstate 4 and the Polk Parkway since construction began last March.
And, eager to hear plans for the future, the group met Florida Polytechnic University Board of Trustees Chairman Robert H. Gidel, the 60-year-old managing partner of Liberty Capital Advisors in Windemere who has served on the board of the University of Florida Foundation since 2002.
“If you’re going to do something disruptive about how education is delivered in the future and about where you want the state to go, you’ve got to go outside the lines and that’s what this is,” said Gidel, sharing his vision for the state’s 12th university.
“Disruptive is not a negative thing, it’s just doing things differently.”
Although disruptive is an understatement regarding the fledgling university’s split from the University of South Florida, Gidel is focused on the future.
“Some people are not on our side,” he commented about critics he called doubters. “We’ve had a train of events in the past that no longer matters. We’re here now and ready to go.”
In addition to appointing Gidel on Aug. 1, trustees recently agreed to accept an estimated $31 million being transferred from USF. Hiring Jacksonville attorney Ava Parker as the interim chief operating officer was another important step forward.
Gidel, who vows to have a business plan ready in 60 days, asked for honest feedback from members and promised to be transparent.
“I’m an open book. There aren’t going to be any secrets. It’s about getting this right.”
After commenting on plans for where students will eat and sleep, Gidel addressed opportunities for private corporate funding that Gov. Rick Scott wants as well as public funding.
Accreditation, which will not be considered until the first class graduates in 2015-16, makes attracting students more challenging.
“Look, we’re in the state university system. There’s no way they’re going to have this sitting here unaccredited. We will get accreditation,” Gidel stated, adding that the first class will receive accreditation retroactively.
“Florida has to take an aggressive step to change the economic diversification, how we think about delivery of education and make sure our kids are properly placed into a new economy that has competition you can only imagine.”
JD Alexander, the former senator from Lake Wales who led the drive for the new university, smiled with pride watching as the “baby” he helped deliver is born.
“We’re not quite there yet, but under Chairman Gidel and now Ava Parker’s leadership, I think the baby will be healthy and growing quickly,” Alexander commented. “This is a critical, strategic institution to help create future opportunities for our region and state. It was worth fighting for and I make no apologies.”
Other supporters agreed with Gidel that the university will transform the future of the county.
“The kind of impact this will have over the next 30 years will be mind boggling,” stated Ingram Leedy, president and CEO of Elephant Outlook. Leedy is part of the team that will make sure the university is connected to the most advanced fiber optic networks in the Southeast.
“This university is what we need to attract the types of businesses, high tech wages and things that we want in our county and our region. Not only is this good for Polk, it’s a good thing for Florida and the country.”
Two million new jobs are expected to be created in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields.
“This takes the ceiling off the potential,” said John Small, Polk County School District’s senior director of workforce education.
“We have 96,000 students in our county with about 7,000 in career academies who have to leave our community to go to college. This is an opportunity to keep our best and brightest right here.”
Along with designs for an outdoor garden terrace, the 100,000 square-foot building will house classrooms, laboratories, community spaces, administration offices and a large amphitheater.
Calatrava is well known for his designs of transportation centers, bridges and cultural institutions. He’s also designing a futuristic train station at the demolished World Trade Center in New York City.
Visit www.floridapolyvision.com to follow the progress of the new university.