Restoration of Palm Court Heads Long List of Summer Construction Projects at New College of Florida

(June 23, 2010)  Summertime in Sarasota and the ‘living may be easy’ for New College students who are on hiatus, but not so for the staff of physical plant, facilities planning and outside crews at Florida’s honors college for the liberal arts and sciences. With five major construction projects under way, the Sarasota campus is sizzling with summer activity.
A highly visible project since its groundbreaking in January is the new Academic Center and Plaza at the corner of Bay Shore Road and U.S. 41. On the historic Palmer Campus, along the Dort Promenade, crews have been hard at work on a new Public Archaeology Building.  On the East Campus, work started recently on a new Black Box Theater in the Hamilton Student Center.  And over at the Caples Fine Arts Complex next to the Ringling Museum, the Isermann-Felsmann art and sculpture buildings are being connected to the campus chilled water system and work is under way on the infrastructure to connect the rest of the Caples complex.

The most recent undertaking is one that is near and dear to the hearts of the 6,000-plus alums of the College: the restoration of Palm Court, the informal gathering spot for students frequently referred to as “The Center of the Universe.”  Designed by world-renowned architect I.M. Pei in the mid-1960s along with the College’s first residence hall complex, Palm Court is being restored to its former majesty with the replacement of the Royal Palms, most of which were in a dire state after nearly 50 years.  At the same time, handsome bricks and pavers will replace the current tiles – with the additional bonus of having raised $250,000 for out-of-state scholarships.

“The College has been monitoring the decline of the palm trees for a number of years,” said alumnus Jono Miller, who serves as Special Assistant to the Vice President of Finance & Administration and is a chair of the College’s Campus Landscape Committee. “Three were missing (dead and removed), two were standing dead, one was hit by lightning and the rest were dying or in serious decline. They are being replaced with healthy Royal Palms of the exact same species and will be planted in the same pattern, but with staggered heights.”

Miller, an environmental expert who played a key role in the development of the Campus Master Plan, said that the new palms will look more like the original, historic palm court than “the declining specimens we’ve come to accept.”

“The decision to restore the area at this time has been long anticipated, planned and discussed by students, faculty, staff and alums,” he explained. “All groups involved have agreed that this restoration was necessary to return the Palm Court area to its original beauty, a place so fondly remembered by alums over the decades.”  Miller noted that in addition to the decline of the palms, the pavers have cracked and chipped and are unsafe.

Two years ago, the New College Alumnae/i Association established the Palm Court Endowed Scholarship Fund for out-of-state students, and since that time the purchase of named commemorative bricks and pavers has netted over $250,000. The pavers are being installed in conjunction with the current restoration project.  A formal dedication ceremony for the restored Palm Court is planned for the College’s Signature 50th Anniversary Weekend taking place on February 11-13, 2011, when many alums will be in town for the celebration and the NCAA’s annual reunion.

“We are delighted that so many alums want to make their mark on the ‘center of the universe,’” commented VP of Alumnae/i Affairs, Jessica Rogers. “Several hundred bricks and pavers have been purchased and engraved to date, and we will continue to provide opportunities for alums to support the College with commemorate pavers well into the future.”

A number of other facility improvement projects are currently under way at New College, including the re-roofing of Cook Hall, adding security cameras to student parking lots, replacing underground utility lines around the historic Pei dorms, and replacing the main air handling and exhaust units at the Heiser Natural Sciences Complex, a significant undertaking.

Palm Court, the Black Box Theater, Isermann-Felsmann and the Public Archaeology Lab are expected to be ready by the time the students return for Fall 2010.  Construction on the more extensive Academic Center and Plaza – the most significant classroom building ever built on campus  – is expected to be completed in early 2011.

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