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Florida Polytechnic trustees back off $25M appropriations request

10:33 AM, Feb 26, 2013   |    comments
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LAKELAND, Fla. -- Following political backlash from all over the state and new financial estimates, the Board of Trustees (BOT) at the new Florida Polytechnic University (FPU) backed off its request for an additional $25 million to get the institution up-and-running.

At the behest of FPU Chief Operating Officer Ava Parker, trustees decided on Monday to wait on appropriations requests and instead focus on risk-analysis studies for now.

TIMELINE: Florida Poly's Controversial History

The panel charged with creating the state's 12th university must develop a courseload, hire faculty, attract students, and build out the campus -- and create their own plan for doing it.

"What we're trying to do is build something that Florida needs to compete in the global world," says board chairman Rob Gidel.

The distinctive steel-arched dome of the school's main building is now rising from what was a cow pasture near I-4. But how you go from one building to a fully functional university is a monumental task.

The board still faces a daunting challenge of paying for student housing and a student center, both required by JD Alexander's controversial SB 1944, which created Florida Poly last year. Early estimates indicated the university could need another $25 million, but one trustee speculated Monday the shortfall could be much bigger.

Trustees grappled with the fact that when larger universities have a shortfall, they can borrow against their hefty foundation balances.  But Poly's foundation has just $10.8 million and it's earmarked for specific uses.

"This whole board is filled with business people and this is how you do business," says Gidel. "You have an idea, you figure out how to execute it, figure out how to fund it....and then you act."

Despite the daunting task of getting a new institution off the ground, Gidel says he's up for it. 

"This is a blast; who gets a chance to start something from scratch that we all need."

Of course the debate last year was whether the state did indeed "need" another university focusing on "STEM" careers. But lawmakers approved the bill creating Florida Polytechnic and now the task at hand is to develop it and pay for it.

TIMELINE: Florida Poly's Controversial History

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