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Eckerd grows, book by book

The new Armacost library dwarfs the former facility and marks the beginning of the college's improvements.

Published February 16, 2005

The Peter H. Armacost Library towers over the Eckerd College campus as if announcing a new era. School officials on Friday will dedicate the building, which they intend as a first stroke in a long-term plan to replace residences and other campus structures.

The $15-million project took two years to complete. At 55,000 square feet, it more than doubles the old library built in 1962 for just $500,000. The library offers about 400 seats, enough to accommodate one-fourth of the student body.

Open areas with a variety of reader-friendly chairs line the sides of both floors. The library offers 17 group study rooms and five lounges with cushioned furniture.

Though the public ceremony starts Friday, students have been using the library since last month. Movers lugged the contents of the existing William Luther Cobb library over the December break. Students returned to a modern library that matches the sandy tones of other buildings but differs in almost every other way.

"I was just in awe of the size," said Jessica Loving, a senior art major who called the new style "much more inviting" than the Cobb library. "It's so much more of a library than the old one was."

Za Dawson, a marine biology sophomore, called the new library "beautiful, amazing" and more useful for research. "I come here, like, three times a day now. Before I came every other day."

Workers will demolish the Cobb library this spring, replacing the area with grass and sidewalks, said Bill McKenna, project manager for the new library. Eventually the school will convert the area into a long quad connecting the administration building and student center.

John and Mary Galbraith put up the biggest chunk of funding for the library. The former trustee in 1999 challenged Armacost, then Eckerd's president, to raise the rest.

Armacost asked for and got a large donation from Jack and Ruth Eckerd, the drugstore family who had rescued the college from bankruptcy in the early 1970s. From the beginning, Galbraith made clear his desire that the library be named after Armacost, who guided the college through murky financial waters in the late 1970s and resigned in 2000 after trying to shore up a failing real estate deal with endowment funds.

Donald Eastman, Eckerd's president, said that the Armacost library should make a statement. "It has long-term implications both physically and for the program, positioning the college as the finest residential liberal arts college in this region."

Eastman noted the library's 58 computer stations, all with wireless access, and capacity for 250,000 volumes and 13,000 journals. Plans call for wireless capability from anywhere in the library within two years. A computer center provides students with 24-hour access.

The college has recently overhauled Dendy-McNair auditorium, the classroom most used for visiting lectures and film, and added athletic fields and exercise rooms. New dormitories will come next, followed by a wellness and recreation center. The college is also seeking donations for a new chapel.

Armacost is now the president of Forman Christian College in Lahore, Pakistan. Enrollment nearly doubled during his 23 years as Eckerd's president, and 40 new faculty positions were created. Armacost is credited with the launch of the Program for Experienced Learners and the Academy for Senior Professionals at Eckerd College. He also secured funding from major institutions such as the Ford Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Armacost resigned in 2000 over allegations of financial mismanagement. Trustees learned that in 18 months, two-thirds of the college's $34-million endowment had been spent without their approval. Some of that money went to expenses such as dormitory repairs, and other funds went to real estate holdings such as the adjacent College Landings development, which the college has since sold.

Eastman said he supported the trustees' decision to ratify the Galbraiths' choice in naming the library, which occurred before his arrival as president. "It is unfortunate that a long, vigorous commitment and career at this college ended on such a sour note. No doubt about that.

"The board gets to make those decisions," he added. "And I think it was a wise decision."

Armacost and Eastman will speak at public dedication ceremonies, which begin at 4 p.m. Friday at Fox Hall in the interior of the campus. Scheduled speaker and Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel has been called abroad and is unable to attend.

The Peter H. Armacost Library is open to the public. Members of the public can borrow books by becoming a Friend of the Library, which annually costs $50 for an individual or $75 for a family membership.

[Last modified February 16, 2005, 04:30:09]

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