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News Clips 01/28/2013
Work in Progress: Florida Polytechnic Struggles to Match Curriculum, Building
Source: Lakeland Ledger, 01/25/13
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By Mary Toothman
Florida Polytechnic University's leaders are scrambling to match their developing plans for a STEM-focused school with a $100 million building they inherited that already is under construction.
Famed architect Santiago Calatrava designed the building for the now-defunct University of South Florida Polytechnic before it was supplanted by Florida Poly last year.
Construction began in March at the new campus, which is near the easternmost intersection of the Polk Parkway and Interstate 4. But the board charged with getting the polytechnic off the ground didn't meet for the first time until July.
Before that board was even formed, much time, money and effort was put into the plans for the unique building, which could be finished as soon as next January.
It was planned, however, for a school that would have grown by transitioning from USF's former traditional branch campus in Lakeland into a polytechnic.
Now, the new school is starting on its own.
Florida Poly will be all about science, technology, engineering and math, making it a STEM school from the start, and it's being run by a whole new group of leaders appointed to orchestrate its creation.
Florida Poly board Chairman Robert Gidel said, with no disrespect for the prior plan or its creators, the existing board has its own criteria.
"Their plan was to transition to more STEM, not build a dedicated STEM," Gidel said of the former administrators and planners of USF Poly.
"Remember, they were starting from the USF branch perspective. We are really struggling to find the right mix of undergraduate general studies that supports STEM so we can eventually be a four-year college, so we have to think longer term."
Without the luxury of time or a full staff, the board and Chief Operating Officer Ava Parker are working with newly appointed Provost Ghazi Darkazalli to map out a plan in which the academics and the building will work together.
"You have to deal with the reality of a building being built that we had no input on," he said.
It'll be dicey.
The curriculum selection will be a high priority, and there may or may not be ways the building design can be altered to fit the teaching environment.
If a certain academic program calls for large pieces of equipment to be nearby, for example, some areas might need more open spaces or higher ceilings or different electrical connections. Changes from the very small to large could be needed.
"We are not trying to redesign it," Gidel said. "We want to know what flexibility we have, if any.
"We want to avoid a $100 million mistake here."
Parker said great care is being taken to make the right choices.
"The board takes its responsibility very seriously and is committed to developing a polytechnic university that's going to provide very unique services," she said.
Parker and Darkazalli are working on an interim basis, as often happens at start-up universities. Permanent hires generally are made later on in the development of the school.
Current points of consideration include:
Accreditation — The new school, which could open its doors to students by the fall of 2014, will work closely with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools to become accredited as quickly as possible. The challenges of becoming accredited as a start-up university will be taken into consideration when decisions are made on what curriculum to start with.
Uniqueness — Leaders are working to design a STEM- focused school to fill needs and not duplicate existing programs. "At the end of the day, if we don't do something different, why are we doing this? You've got all these other state universities out there teaching STEM," Gidel said. "So, what's missing? Why build a college that's overlapping everything else? What is it that the state and the country really need in terms of STEM education?"
Flexibility — The plan for the school's launch will need to fit into the groove of the building that's under construction, and leaders don't yet know what physical changes they might need to make or if they will be able to make them. The school's agreement with Calatrava needs to be studied, as do other plans for future buildings and cost factors.
And at this point, leaders do not even know whether they will want to make changes.
"The building is just one of those things where that's what was designed, and that's what's going to be built. The question is how adaptable is it? And that's what everybody's dealing with," Gidel said.
It's important for the board to study the issues, he said, "even though we may not be able to make any changes at all."
Parker was at Arizona State University Polytechnic in Mesa, Ariz., this week looking at its layout and structure. She said in a telephone interview Friday it was fascinating and that she's looking forward to the planning process for the Lakeland-based polytechnic.
"What's great about the board is we have a group of people who are willing to stop and take a look at what we have and not just assume that what we have is good for the type of plan that we are considering," she said.
It would have been simple to come in and just use the previous plan, she said.
"It would have been very tempting to just assume they would follow that," she said. "But I think that the governor and the BOG had expectations for them to make their own decisions."
And a multitude of those decisions are coming up in meetings, starting with its next one on Feb. 5, Gidel said.
"We're going to get into some really interesting discussions the next couple of months," he said.