Eckerd College breaks ground for new library
By WAVENEY ANN MOORE, Times Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG -- Eckerd College held a soggy groundbreaking Tuesday for a $13-million three-story library that will be named in honor of former president Peter H. Armacost.
Armacost, 67, president of the brand new Pakistan Christian University and president-designate of Forman Christian College, also in Pakistan, headed Eckerd College for 23 years. He resigned in June 2000 after trustees learned that the college endowment was severely depleted.
Tuesday, though, there was no hint of past problems. There was standing room only for the mostly indoor ceremony, at which both Armacost's legacy and the generosity of the library's benefactors were praised.
Sophomore Tara Sands hopes the new facility will be complete before she graduates.
"Right now, our library, it's not that up to date, and for research, it's a little difficult," she said. "It will just make researching a lot easier."
Tiffany Pasco, a junior, had heard when she was a freshman that a new library was being planned. She is pleased that it will eventually be built.
Construction of the facility, which will overlook an artificial pond, is expected to take 18 to 24 months. It will be twice the size of the present library, which was opened in 1962, and will have a capacity for 250,000 print volumes. There will be seating for 400, including 19 group study rooms and a coffee bar and reading lounge.
Responding to student requests, the college will include lounge-style seating as well as standard tables and carrels in the building. It also will have wireless capability and a 24-hour general computing lab. In addition, the Armacost library will have a lighted tower and a two-story glass wall overlooking the pond.
The project is being made possible because of a sizable donation from John and Rosemary Galbraith, who gave more than half the money for the library. Galbraith, a former Eckerd College trustee and board chairman, is a retired mutual fund executive and philanthropist.
He told the gathering of about 300 students, faculty members and guests that he had promised Armacost back in 1999 that he would put up half the money for the library, if Armacost would raise the rest. Armacost turned to Jack and Ruth Eckerd, the drugstore chain family, after whom the college is named.
Tuesday's ceremony was attended by several members of Armacost's family, including his three daughters and youngest grandchild. During a brief interview, he said he was overwhelmed to have the school's library named after him.
"I am humbled and deeply grateful to those who made that possible," he said.
Eckerd president Donald R. Eastman III thanked Armacost, designated president emeritus of the college, for his pursuit of distinction for the 44-year-old institution and "for dreaming big dreams for this brand new upstart school in the palmetto scrub."
"As its principal dreamer for over half its existence, you persuaded John Galbraith, and many others, to dream along with you, and to invest their resources, as you invested all your energy and will, into making those dreams a reality," Eastman said.
"This library, and the national reputation this college has achieved in the blink of an eye, are nothing less than dreams that have come true. You believed in Eckerd's future, and you inspired others to believe."
Armacost, who has traveled to Pakistan several times in recent months, will leave for the South Asia country on Jan. 11 for a three-year appointment. He expects to return frequently to the United States as part of his work. He also holds the position of director of the presidential forum of the Council of Independent Colleges. He will give that up in January.
In June 2000, Armacost suddenly announced his resignation from Eckerd after a weekend retreat during which college board members learned that in an 18-month period, two-thirds of the institution's $34-million endowment had been spent without their approval. Much of the money was used for capital expenses, such as dormitory repairs and to pay for the college's struggling real estate ventures. Armacost said then that he had learned of many of the school's financial problems at the same time as board members. Friends of the college quickly pledged to replace the money.
Eckerd College Properties Inc. recently signed an agreement with a Tampa firm called Swan Landings LLC to sell its College Landings property for residential development. Closing is expected by next month.
Last month, a city board approved a plan calling for a mix of single- and multiple-family dwellings and assisted living facilities for College Landings -- 470 dwelling units instead of the originally proposed 728. One single-family home would be reserved as the residence of Eckerd College's president.
As is the case with the present library, the new facility will be open to members of the public, who will be able to borrow books by paying $30 for an individual Friends of the Library membership or $40 for a family membership.
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