Caloosa Belle

Florida SouthWestern celebrates another milestone

Student Jasmine Ortiz, Bernard Rasmussen, student Sandra Madrid, student Natalie Cantu, student Chandler McCormick, student Austin Farewell, City Commissioner S. Smith, LaBelle Museum Director Joe Thomas and FSW President Dr. Jeff Albritton. (Patty Brant/Caloosa Belle)

A very pleased group of people gathered at the Hendry/Glades Florida Southwestern College campus on a beautiful June morning this week to celebrate the continuing commitment of the college and the community to higher education for inland students.

The old building had been torn down months ago and the land stands ready for a new $1.6 million facility. Construction on the new 7,200 square foot Hendry/Glades Curtis Center, Education Hall is to begin within the next week or so. When complete the campus will boast a brand new building of 15,000 square feet of total space, including a Library Lounge, three private study rooms, classroom space that can also serve as a computer lab, six faculty offices, a galleria and a community meeting room. Construction also includes a patio plaza and covered walkway to Building A.

From FSW President, Dr. Jeff Albritton to FSW students, with faculty, staff, government officials and community members, everyone on hand had a strong interest in the education and the influence of education on the area’s economy.

Before wielding a shovel outside at the construction site, Dr. Albritton addressed the invited guests for the occasion.

Dr. Albritton has held various positions with FSW for some 13 years, and is beginning his fifth year as president. One of his main messages was strengthening the school’s outreach to include the “heartland’s” vast demographics.

He noted that FSW Hendry/Glades, which attracts students from surrounding communities including Immokalee, will continue to be an even greater part of the community as it grows and expands its working relationship with FGCU and other influential institutions, providing dual enrollment and “seamless” movement.

As another indication of its growth and influence, he noted that FSW has “BUC’d” up, referring to the school’s highly successful reentry of the school into sports.

Speaking directly to the enhancement of the Hendry/LaBelle campus, he said he envisions Curtis Hall as a “sticky” building – a welcoming place that students “don’t want to leave.”

He envisions it as a place for students to congregate, to create their own community linked to and engaged in the larger community.

It will create, he hopes, a central environment for a lifelong connection for students and the community with FSW.

He also noted that he thinks of the campus as the “true heart of higher education in the Heartland.”

FSW President Dr. Jeff Albritton, left, and Dr. Louis Traina VP, Institutional Advancement, unveiled the architect’s rendering of the college’s new Curtis Center. (Caloosa Belle/Patty Brant)

Dr. Louis Traina, VP, Institutional Advancement noted that the new center did not qualify for state funding, so the inland community stepped up to provide financing.

It was that community support that “made it happen.”

Curtis Hall is being built strictly with private donations – it is not eligible for Florida Department of Education capital funding.

Special local community business donors to the hall, the Hilliards and First Bank, were singled out for recognition along with a timely economic development program tax credit.

Partnerships with private businesses and philanthropists are the school’s life blood.

Up to a 50 percent tax credit or sales tax refund called the Community Contribution Tax Credit Program allows businesses to donate toward community development and housing projects for low-income persons. Community residents can also support FSW by taking advantage of naming rights still available at the college.

More than half the students at the Hendry/Glades Campus take advantage of the Curtis Scholarship Endowment at FSW Foundation provides full tuition two-year scholarships.

Current student Jasmine Ortiz described what the new building will mean for her and her fellow students. She has already earned an EMT diploma and is now working on her AS degree.

She said she welcomed her opportunity to use the Curtis Scholarship and is currently president of the environmental club. Her current and future success come as a direct consequence of her experience at FSW.

Dr. Denis Wright, Charlotte Campus President/Regional VP, Economic and Community Development explained the plan to bring in new programs to benefit the Hendry/Glades students and compared the new hall to the movie “Field of Dreams,” saying “Build it and they will come.”

He added that the campus’ graduates will be a strong force for the economic development of surrounding communities.