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SPC wins funds to renovate building

The college will get $4.7-million to add a bookstore, cafeteria and classrooms to its Tarpon Springs College of Education.

Published June 11, 2005

TARPON SPRINGS - St. Petersburg College will get all of the $4.7-million it sought from the state this year to renovate a building on its Tarpon Springs campus for its College of Education.

The money will be used on the old 100,000-square-foot big-box store on the southwest corner of Klosterman Road and U.S. 19, which now houses the education college and some administrative offices, said Susan Reiter, director of facilities, planning and institutional services at SPC.

Plans call for building a new bookstore and a cafeteria there, both needed desperately on a campus that has no food service and an undersized bookstore, Reiter said. Eventually the college intends to add a second floor and build classrooms.

The bookstore and cafeteria should be finished by late summer 2006, she said. SPC officials soon will begin planning the second phase of the project, which will begin with replacing the infrastructure before construction begins on new classrooms and academic labs for both two-year and four-year students, Reiter said.

Earlier this year, the money appeared to be in jeopardy after Florida State University president T.K. Wetherell asked the state RenovateBoard of Governors why funds to his school were being cut. That question led the Board of Governors to decide in January to knock a proposed allocation for SPC down to $100,000. In response, college president Carl Kuttler and allies of the college immediately launched an effort to secure the appropriation.

In less than a week, Gov. Jeb Bush suggested that the Board of Governors was out of line and said he had told Kuttler "not to worry about it."

Still, the college took nothing for granted. Kuttler and his staff repeatedly lobbied legislators and Bush's staff. The Bilirakis family, whose name is on the education college, also worked the phones. State Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor, said he lobbied legislative leaders and their staff to keep the money in the budget. His parents, Evelyn, who is a SPC trustee, and U.S. Rep. Mike Bilirakis, R-Tarpon Springs, also made phone calls on the college's behalf.

In the end, the college secured the appropriation's spot and headed off any notion that it was a pet legislative project, or "turkey," that Bush ought to veto, Kuttler said. To the contrary, he said, it's an important part in the effort to prepare new teachers for a county that needs more every year.

"This was not a turkey," Kuttler said. "Our College of Education has nearly 500 students, and our fall applications are up 50 percent. Summer enrollment is up 62 percent. ... We have really worked hard and we are graduating people. We are not losing people."

As SPC grows and expands its four-year programs, projects like the Tarpon Springs renovation are paramount, said Dr. Tom Furlong, the senior vice president at SPC who oversees the education program.

"We've got to stay ahead of this," he said.

The building renovation will allow the College of Education to grow, and it will help nurture other four-year programs, such as the international business degree program that will be offered beginning this fall, Furlong said.

"The growth of the four-year at Tarpon will be in that building," he said.

Currently, SPC offers four-year education degrees in seven majors, and officials are considering adding English Secondary Education and Foreign Language Education, Furlong said.

SPC began offering four-year degrees in nursing, education and technology management in 2001.

[Last modified June 11, 2005, 00:25:17]

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