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Friday, May 25, 2018
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Florida Poly hurries to build dorms by fall 2014

TAMPA — They may be sweeping construction dust from the hallways, but it appears that members of the inaugural class at Florida Polytechnic University who want to live on campus will have a place to call home.

Florida’s 12th public university is negotiating with a Jacksonville developer to build a residence hall on the Lakeland campus, and officials say the structure will be completed by the time classes start in the fall of 2014.

The developer, Vestcor Cos., will bear full financial risk for financing, building, furnishing and operating the project, and will ensure it will be ready for occupancy on Aug. 20, 2014. The company would then earn a return on student rents.

Ava Parker, Poly’s chief operating officer, said such arrangements are becoming more common in academia, and in Poly’s situation, it was necessary to structure the deal this way.

“The issue is that you’re limited in how you can pay for residence halls,” she said. “We don’t have the luxury of using our operating budget for that. If you can come up with another way to do that, provide the benefit and value for our students, and not require the university to provide the cash to get it up and going, it’s a good option for us.”

Florida Polytechnic was created in the 2012 legislative session and has been supported by an annual state allocation that had gone to USF Polytechnic, which was under the University of South Florida umbrella. Much of Poly’s bankroll is wrapped up in the $110 million Innovation, Science and Technology building rising at Interstate 4 and the eastern end of the Polk Parkway.

The school had considered temporary portable housing or some sort of public-private partnership in developing student residences, but recently put out a request for proposals “to see if there was any interest in partners who would basically bring their own money to the table,” Parker said.

Seven companies expressed interest.

“We were very pleased with the responses that we received,” Parker said.

The school’s board of trustees settled on Vestcor, which has built student residential properties in Charlotte, N.C., Athens, Ga. and Jacksonville.

“It’s really going to be a neat product, and we’re looking forward to getting started,” said Will Morgan, president of Vestcor Communities.

It will cost about $12 million to build, Morgan said, and will have about 200 beds, most in four bedroom/two bath units with a kitchenette.

“It’ll be more like apartment-style living in a dormitory-style atmosphere,” he said.

The construction timetable may seem daunting, but Morgan said one of the keys to accepting the challenge was that the construction company used by Vestcor — global giant Skanska — is already on site building the Innovation, Science and Technology building.

“They’re mobilized, they’re ready to go, and they can throw a lot of resources at it,” Morgan said. “We’ve vetted all that at the front end to make sure everybody’s comfortable with timetables and delivery dates. We have complete confidence we’ll get that done.”

Similar projects in the Tampa Bay area have taken more time. The Hawks Landing complex at Hillsborough Community College, with 420 beds and a $17 million price tag, took a year to complete. The University of Tampa’s Urso Hall, which cost $15.6 million and has 182 beds, took 15 months to complete. UT’s new West Kennedy Hall, at $44 million for 528 beds, took 17 months to build. Residence Hall One on the USF St. Petersburg campus cost $15.8 million for 343 beds, and took 13 months to complete.

“We’re trusting that if we enter into an agreement with them and they say that’s what they can do, then that’s what they will do,” said Parker.

Poly trustees are expected to formally approve the residence hall deal on Thursday. It comes amid a slew of activity at the school as it gears up for next fall.

Recruiters have completed their first month of luring students, and officials said the response has exceeded expectations.

The admissions team said it received more than 2,000 inquiries and more than 400 applications so far.

Poly has hired a chief information officer, Tom Hull, from Pace University in New York and a former tech planner for IBM and the Pentagon.

“I’m excited about our recruiting progress,” Parker said. “I’m excited about the progress we’ve made on campus, and I’m looking forward to receiving our new students next year,”

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