Valencia: Poinciana campus is top priority
By Ken Jackson
With Christmas coming, Valencia College is working to bring Poinciana residents who seek simple access to post-secondary education one whale of a gift: a school campus in their backyard.
After Florida’s State Board of Education last week approved the school to move forward with its plans and create a seventh school campus in the southwestern section of Osceola County, Kathleen Plinske, president of Valencia’s Osceola and Lake Nona campuses, called those plans the school’s “top legislative priority.”
The biggest challenges will be to find a site and a funding source big enough to complete at least the first phase of the project.
A Valencia press release said it hopes to secure a site by mid 2014, but Plinske said setting any kind of timetable now is premature.
“We’re very excited at the prospect of this coming, and while we can’t give a timetable we can promise a beautiful campus will be built,” she said. “Now we have the go ahead to look for a site. Commissioner (Brandon) Arrington has been talking about land at Mac Overstreet Park, but we’re not a the stage of purchasing any land at this point.”
Securing dedicated state funding would help shape the project, and college officials said they hope the Poinciana campus would be added to the list of state-approved building projects.
If not, funding would easily become the project’s biggest hurdle. Traditionally, funding for projects like this — the new Building 4 at Valencia’s Osceola campus, for example — comes from Public Education Capital Outlay (PECO) funds, generated through small fees levied on utilities like home phone service.
“That’s the question,” Plinske said. “With fewer homes having land lines, those funds are starting to dry up.”
Valencia College President Sandy Shugart called the reality of a Poinciana campus a “game-changer” in making post-high school education more accessible than the nearly hour drive in traffic it can take from that area to reach the Kissimmee campus.
“We’d like to increase the college-going rate of students who graduate from high school in the Poinciana area. We’d like to get more adults to complete college degrees as well,” he said. “We’d like to offer more career-training there; and we’d like to partner with the University of Central Florida and TECO (Technical Education Center Osceola) and others to make sure a full gamut of talent is available for companies that relocate and expand there.”
Construction would happen much the same way it has at the Lake Nona campus, with one multi-story building containing 70,000 square feet of educational space being built to serve more than 2,000 students in the first stage. Further building would double that space and capacity.
Shugart said the school has been serious about putting a campus in Poinciana for about 10 years, but the idea finally gained support with state education leaders this year.