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PHCC is in the market for Wesley Chapel land

President Robert Judson says that in time a major campus could locate in the area.

By RYAN DAVIS

© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 4, 2001


Pasco-Hernando Community College is looking in fast-growing Wesley Chapel for land to build a center likely featuring high-tech classes.

The college's new long-range plan, which will be discussed at its board of trustees meeting this month, puts into writing the school's oft-discussed objective of reaching more people in sprawling southeast and south central Pasco County.

"I would like us to put something out there that's going to offer some general college classes and also have a technology center as its primary focus," PHCC President Robert Judson said.

Starting Monday, the school will offer computer classes at Saddlebrook for the resort's employees, east campus Provost Marion Bullock said. The school plans to offer a continuing education class this fall at Wesley Chapel High School. Within the next year, Judson said, he wants to rent a building and offer more.

He expects to open the center five to seven years from now. And it could get bigger.

"I suspect it will grow in need and may at some point become a major campus of the college," Judson said.

Board of trustees Chairwoman Judy Parker said she expects the board will support Judson's desires.

"The citizens over there shouldn't have to go all the way to Tampa to be educated," she said. "We go where the students are. That's what we need to do."

Judson drives through the high-growth area each workday on his commute from his house near Zephyrhills to the school offices in New Port Richey. He said he thinks about "the opportunity PHCC is missing to serve a heck of a lot of people in Pasco County."

"The changes there are so dramatic," he said. "Even coming through there every day you are actually struck by how much things are changing and the construction."

At least 15,000 new homes are planned for the Wesley Chapel area over the next 10 to 15 years.

Through Judson's eyes, it's particularly desirable growth for two reasons: age and income.

Pasco County recently built Wesley Chapel High School, which graduated its first senior class last month, and it plans to build a second high school in the area.

"That's a good indication of the age of people who are in the area," Judson said.

The planned communities will include some large suburban homes. Many of the yet-to-move-in residents are expected to commute to jobs in Tampa or work for new businesses in Pasco.

"I think it's probably higher than the average income in Pasco County," Judson said. "It's the kind of population that would be very interested in higher education."

The people living there now and taking classes are likely going elsewhere -- either at Hillsborough Community College or University of South Florida, he said. HCC pledged its support for a PHCC campus in the Wesley Chapel area in exchange for PHCC's support of an HCC campus in northwest Hillsborough County, near Pasco.

Judson isn't sure exactly where PHCC will build. He hopes the county will donate land along State Road 56, which is scheduled to open this year and provide easy access to Interstate 75.

Judson said he has started to talk about his plans with County Administrator John Gallagher, who said said the talks have been preliminary.

The county does not own land along SR 56, he said, but he would be willing to talk to landowners to see if it could get some for the college.

"I think it would be very good for the county, especially if it's technical (classes)," said Gallagher, who added that such a facility would help the county's push to land high-tech firms near Wesley Chapel.

If the county cannot provide land, Judson said, he will seek to swap land with the county, possibly offering college land in Gowers Corner that it might not need after next year when its law enforcement training facility moves to Dade City. If that also fails, he will turn to the state Legislature for assistance.

The move continues a flurry of PHCC expansion plans.

It has purchased land in Spring Hill to open a campus there within eight to 10 years. It also expects to have a campus within the planned Connerton community in central Pasco.

- Ryan Davis covers higher education and social services in Pasco. He can be reached at 800-333-7505 ext. 3452.

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