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Education

Florida Poly marks construction landmark

Tribune staff
Published:   |   Updated: April 17, 2013 at 09:51 AM
LAKELAND -

With the placement of a final stanchion alongside a symbolic tree and a rousing round of applause, Florida Polytechnic supporters and officials celebrated the “topping out” of the campus showpiece – the $134 million Innovation, Science and Technology building.

The ceremony is a construction industry tradition that salutes the workers toiling on and off site, but Tuesday's ceremony also served as a shot in the arm for an institution that has been in the crosshairs of lawmakers, regulators and opinion shapers since Poly broke off as an independent university last year.

“It has been hard, but no great idea has ever been born with overwhelming support,” said Robert Gidel, chairman of the university's board of trustees. “It takes time for an idea to become reality, and many people to shape it into something adaptable, sustainable and measurable. It takes persistence, perseverance, faith and hope, and that's what you see behind you.”

The building sits at the intersection of Interstate 4 and the Polk Parkway. It was designed by Santiago Calatrava, a world renowned Spanish architect, sculptor and structural engineer who has also designed the PATH rail terminal at the new World Trade Center site in New York and the Milwaukee Art Museum.

Calatrava attended Tuesday's ceremonies.

Florida Polytechnic had been under the umbrella of the University of South Florida and on a gradual path to standing alone as an independent school. But last year, then-Sen. JD Alexander, a Republican from nearby Lake Wales, muscled a bill through the Legislature that made Poly's independence immediate.

“It's a beautiful building,” Alexander said Tuesday. “I think it'll inspire a sense of place, it'll help make the institution one of the finest technical institutions in science. It's an exciting day.”

Poly will operate on the annual $27 million allocation that had gone to USF Poly, and will use funds that have been squirreled away for completion of the Innovation, Science and Technology building.

Trustees ruffled feathers in January when they said they would ask the Florida Legislature for an extra $25 million to finish construction. Backers had frequently noted it would not take extra money to launch the new school, and the move drew the wrath of lawmakers and newspaper editorial boards. The request was eventually withdrawn.

The topping out ceremony technically celebrates the laying of the final piece of infrastructure at the tallest point of a structure. The construction site on Tuesday suggested there is still plenty of work to do, but Poly officials say they are still on track for an August 2014 opening class.


jstockfisch@tampatrib.com

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