Flagler officially owns FECI buildings

President William T. Abare, Jr. talks about campus construction progress

By Rich Harris

Despite some setbacks concerning campus development, Flagler College President William T. Abare, Jr., continues to look to the future in what may be considered the greatest period of growth in the college’s history.

After assuming possession of the Florida East Coast Industries Buildings last month, and once the new Student Activities Center and Art Building renovations are completed next year, Flagler will have added more than 100,000 square feet of new facilities to campus. It is space that Abare says will easily be filled. But the opening of newer facilities means even older campus buildings, which may have traditionally been considered cramped, will be sporting vacant rooms — spaces needing a purpose.

The college engaged the services of Brailsford & Dunlavey, a facility planning and program management firm, to ensure the best use of both new and old college facilities.

Consultants toured the campus and its buildings and have submitted a preliminary report, which the college is now reviewing. Abare expects to receive the final report in the coming weeks. Nothing has been set, and Abare said the college would possibly confer with other consultants before making any decisions.

The biggest stir up in campus planning came with the opportunity to acquire the FECI buildings on King and Malaga streets late this summer.

“We’ll never have an opportunity in the next 10, 20 years to acquire that much land in the center of St. Augustine,” Abare said about the property. “We’re getting about four and a half acres of land, plus the buildings.”

The college took possession of the FECI office buildings on Oct. 20. FECI will vacate the property in January or February of 2007, according to Abare.

He says the buildings are pivotal in the strategic positioning of the college and the use of them continues to be discussed. While many college departments and faculty members would jump at the opportunity to move, Abare is looking long-term.

“We have to make a very careful study of the property and see where we want to be 10, 20 years down the road, and see how this [space] will come into play,” he said. The FECI buildings will be used ultimately for classrooms and possibly student housing. Faculty offices will also be required for the growing number of full-time faculty members. The college hired five new positions this year and will hire six others in 2007.

“We’re in the process of deciding the highest and best use of that [property],” he said. “And that’s no small undertaking.”
The purchase of the FECI buildings has resulted in minor changes to plans of the Student Activities Center, scheduled for completion in June 2007. Some changes to the plans for the second floor have not yet been finalized. Details concerning the operation of the building also remain undecided.

“We’ve got to look at cost and financial resources,” Abare said. “We have to look at what’s realistic. Many students would like to see it open 24/7.”

Although he was unsure what the hours of the new facility might be, he said the college plans to hire a full time Student Union Director who will be in charge of the building, handling room reservations and coordinating with the Director of Student Activities to plan events.
Batson-Cook is the general contractor for the project, as well as the rehabilitation of the Art Building. The latter continues despite being “way behind schedule,” according to Abare. Phase one of the Art Building project was initially expected for completion in December 2006, but unexpected environmental, structural, and engineering issues pushed that date to March 2007.

“Anything that could have gone wrong went wrong,” Abare said.

He is more optimistic of phase two, which will begin in April and will include the renovation of the original studio building.

“Basically they’re going to tear apart the building and put it back together again in four months,” Abare said. “It’s going to be down to the wire. The Monday after graduation they’re going to be in the building,” he said. The deadline for the second half of the project is August 15, making completion critical for those classes scheduled in the building during the fall of 2007. Should work run longer than expected, there is no plan B.

“We don’t have any backup,” Abare said.

One major project was put on a back burner due to financial restraints. The college’s plan to update its athletic fields is “dead in the water,” according to Abare, after an initial estimate for the project came back at $1.5 million—three times the amount the college had originally set aside for the project.

“We had grandiose plans,” Abare said. “But it’s just too expensive.”

The first phase included paving the parking lot and improving the entrance. A second phase included the construction of a field house.
The decision to put off the project may affect the college’s entrance to the Sunshine State Conference. If Flagler’s facilities are not up to standards of conference presidents, the college may be required to rethink some part of its decision.

“If that’s the case, we may have to revisit what we’re going to do and how we’re going to do it,” Abare said, although he does not anticipate spending $1.5 million to do so.

With many other college projects taking precedence, Abare said he could not see the project in realistic terms as an “institutional priority.” If necessary, the college would seek membership in another conference, but would not back out of the NCAA.
“At this point there is no thought whatsoever of retreating and going back to the NAIA,” Abare said.

Another development comes after several years of talks concerning the acquisition of post office property at the corner of King Street and Martin Luther King Boulevard. Plans with the United States Post Office have ceased to materialize, and Abare is not holding out hope.
“We are not going to stand around and wait for the Post Office to change its mind,” he said.

According to Abare, planning will continue without any thought given to the possible acquisition of the Post Office property.
“Obviously that has a lot of implications, but at this point that is my recommendation to the [Board of Trustees],” he said.

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