By Sean Bowes
Construction has started on the new Pasco-Hernando Community College (PHCC) full-service site, to be called the Porter Campus at Wiregrass Ranch. The school is scheduled to open and hold classes by the spring semester of 2014.
Since June, workers have been relocating gopher tortoises that lived within the 110,534 square-foot area on which the campus will be built. Currently, contractors have been clearing and grading the land to lay the foundation for the facility as well as laying down the underground utilities. A spokesperson for PHCC says that the new campus will offer the latest high-tech trends in higher education with a traditional focus on teaching and learning. And, at least two floors of the main classroom building will be dedicated to health programs.
“PHCC is very excited about opening the Porter Campus in Wesley Chapel in January 2014,” says Lucy Miller, PHCC’s executive director of marketing and public relations. “The enthusiasm for the new campus, expressed by the business area and the residents of this growing community, underscores the need for providing higher education and training services in this area of our two-county district.”
The campus should be holding classes approximately one year after the opening of Raymond James Financial opens its campus and two years after the Florida Hospital Wesley Chapel has opened its doors to patients. Both the hospital and Raymond James Financial should benefit from the close proximity to the Porter Campus, which will primarily focus on its business and health care programs, in addition to providing many general education classes.
“Currently we have articulation agreements with Florida Hospital for health programs and look forward to our continued partnership as we open the Porter Campus,” says Miller. “PHCC is always open to forming new partnership agreements to provide educational and training opportunities to benefit residents in our area.”
District 2 county commissioner Pat Mulieri, whose district includes all of Wesley Chapel, says she is excited about the introduction of a PHCC campus in the Wiregrass area, which was previously a 5,000-plus-acre cattle ranch nicknamed “Gatorville.”
“Wesley Chapel is definitely an economic engine for Pasco and New Tampa,” says Mulieri, a retired former PHCC professor. “The campus will be a catalyst for growth and development. Businesses need an educated workforce and PHCC can definitely play an important part in providing this.”
The Porter Campus was originally scheduled to open in August of 2013, but was pushed back five months, mostly due to a veto by Florida Governor Rick Scott on May 26 for the fifth and final installment of $6.9 million of state funding for the last stages of construction for the campus. However, $45 million already has been secured from the state, which should bring the campus to near completion. PHCC officials have said that they plan to seek the remaining balance for the campus which, when finished, will have cost a total of $52 million, from their normal budget process in the upcoming years.
A Lasting Legacy
The Porter family, for whom the campus is named, donated the land to PHCC on January 22, 2010, after nearly a decade of talking about having a college located in Wiregrass Ranch. The campus is being built at 2727 Mansfield Blvd., just off S.R. 56, next to Wiregrass Ranch High. The Porter Campus will be located less than three-miles from the new Florida Hospital and just a quarter-mile from Raymond James Financial’s planned offices.
“We were waiting for the perfect time to start building the campus,” says J.D. Porter, the treasurer for the Porter Family Trust.
In addition to donating the land for the campus, on October 15, the Porter family submitted a Request for Proposal (RFP) to the county and plans to speak to the Pasco Board of County Commissioners (BCC) about a proposed major public park that the family would also like to see built north of the new PHCC campus.
“It would be the first park of its kind,” explains Porter. “A park that is run with a private and public relationship that creates a venue for tourism, has great amenities, is well kept and serves a public need.”
The Porters donated 40 acres for a park in Wiregrass that they would like to see turned into a multi-purpose sports complex. Porter said that the park is planned to feature well-kept, multi-purpose fields for sports like soccer and lacrosse, in addition to facilities that could bring sports and recreation tournaments to the Wesley Chapel area, which could stimulate more business for local restaurants and hotels.
“The new and continued quality development of Wesley Chapel will reshape the mindset of Pasco County’s position in both the Tampa Bay region and the state of Florida,” says Porter.