Flagler College wants to demolish an outdated one-story building to make way for new classroom buildings.
St. Augustine city commissioners are expected to consider the college’s plans on Monday. Some residents oppose new construction at 31 Cordova St. because they fear it will bring in more noise and traffic. And they say classroom buildings don’t belong in the city’s historic district.
I think that is short-sighted. The existing 4,255-square-foot building is unremarkable architecturally and has no historical significance. Flagler College has proposed replacing it with three inter-connected buildings on the same lot. The school’s design proposal has evolved. Public documents posted before Monday’s meeting describe some of the changes (See City Commission meeting agenda and back-up material: PDF 1, PDF2, PDF3, PDF4).
The public documents make clear to me that the college has been cautious, conservative and respectful in its dealings with the city and the community. College officials have moved forward in a spirit of cooperation and compromise. They have reduce the size and height of the proposed buildings. They have added additional landscaping and storm-water retention. They have widened the public sidewalk.
Whatever the college builds, I am confident it will blend in with the architectural features of the historic district. It will add value to the surrounding neighborhood and it will enhance the educational experience of students.
Flagler College students – and teachers – will benefit from new classrooms and improved facilities for students in the Communication Department.
I should tell you that I am an assistant professor at Flagler. I support the college and I’m not the only one. See, for instance, “My Flagler Five,” my website where students tell the world why Flagler College is special to them.
Or watch this video, where students explain why they attend Flagler.
I teach classes in the old Cordova Street building. I can’t wait until it’s replaced. I’ll be diplomatic: It looks much better on the outside than the inside. At least one professor has asked not to teach there, apparently because the building’s occasional strange smells make her sick.
I asked some of my journalism students – Phil Sunkel, Angela Biggs, Scott Harrison, Sarah Williamson and Ashley Goodman – to interview other students about the college’s proposal. Here are some of the opinions they collected:
I think it’s a good move for the school to put money into building new classrooms, equipment for students to learn more efficiently and get acquainted with equipment they might actually use in the field.
– Tiffanie Reynolds, co-editor at Flagler’s Gargoyle newspaper
We’ve been needing a new communication building for a while now. I support the measure of tearing down that building.
– Joshua Santos, Flagler College student
For sure, we need a new communication building. It’s out of date and too small.
– Spencer Fraser, Flagler College student
I’ve had class in the communication building twice and it’s gross. It doesn’t fit with any of the other Flagler buildings.
– Pauline Thier, Flagler College student
The old building is probably not up to the college’s potential. A lot of people are doing internships in other places with the best of the best equipment. And they come back to Flagler and don’t have that. I think we need it. Flagler College is a really great school. More people want to come here and if we have the best equipment we’ll have better students.
– Shannon LeDuke, Flagler College student
I think that’d be a great idea. I’d love it. I’m a sophomore, so I’ve only taken a few communication classes, but it would definitely help students.
– Nikki Baird, Flagler College student
It’s amazing they are getting a new building…right now it is way too outdated, smells like mold.
– Victoria Hardina, Flagler College student
The college’s centerpiece is the former Ponce de León Hotel, which is on the National Register of Historic Places (See listing). And over the years I’ve seen that the college is meticulous about maintaining not only the Ponce building, but other buildings and the surrounding campus.
Flagler College is not some out-of-state institution that is coming in and ruining the character of St. Augustine. I’d argue that the college has done as much as any other single institution to preserve the historic character and architecture of St. Augustine. I credit the college administration, led by Dr. William T. Abare Jr.
Dr. Abare, at the college since 1971, was named president in 2001. I’ve seen how Flagler has improved and expanded under his leadership. Since I moved here in 2007, the college has added the Ringhaver Student Center, Hanke Hall and other beautiful buildings.
At the same time, I see workers continually upgrading and maintaining the existing buildings and grounds.
Flagler College is a great neighbor, a responsible and valuable community partner that many other American towns would love to have. It is a wholesome family-oriented place where the college president knows faculty members by name and even plays ping-pong with members of the staff.
Whatever happens on Monday when city commissioners hear the college’s proposal, I know that Flagler College will continue to add to the character, appeal and culture of St. Augustine for many years to come.