Senate allots $5M to begin Florida School of the Arts renovations
While St. Johns River State College administrators have been working diligently since 2010 to secure funds to renovate the nearly 50-year-old Florida School of the Arts facilities, funds recently allocated by the Senate could mean that a much-deserved transformation for the community’s cultural gem is on the horizon.
SJR State President Joe Pickens said final approval for the $5 million would be a positive signal that the College would continue to receive the nearly $17 million requested to completely renovate and expand the complex. Pickens said the College is now looking to the House of Representatives to help close the gap.
“All eyes are now on the House,” Pickens said. “We’re waiting to see if they agree to bonding, which is needed in order to generate the revenues to fund the Public Education Capital Outlay (PECO) allocation.”
“Even if we are able to attain a portion of the money in the final legislative budget, the appropriation would still have to pass gubernatorial scrutiny,” Pickens continued. “So, in essence, we are only one-third of the way to achieving an appropriation that would be the beginning of a truly transformational project for the Palatka campus.”
The funds would mean bringing the facility up to code, the remodeling of the main stage theater, construction of a new black box theater, and the addition of modern classrooms, labs and related spaces to accommodate existing students, as well as up to 100 additional full-time students upon completion. The addition of programs targeted for expanded workforce training in high-wage, high-demand, artistic and technical fields is also on the table and would be facilitated by this project, adding to the opportunities for students to acquire well-paying jobs upon graduation from the Florida School of the Arts program at SJR State.
Pickens said the College owes a special debt of gratitude to Senate Appropriations Chair Jack Latvala, who is responsible for Senate PECO allocations. “I’ve known Senator Latvala since my early days in the House,” Pickens said. “He was gracious enough to call and inquire what our priorities for the College were during this budget year. For that, I am exceedingly grateful. I also want to recognize the efforts of Senator Keith Perry, who has certainly kept his campaign promise of paying attention to the needs of Putnam County, in assisting with this funding request,” he said.
Pickens explained that while the House budget does not currently include any PECO projects, he remains hopeful, thanks to legislative representatives within the College’s district, and added how fortunate the College is to have a committed and college-wide delegation assisting with this effort. “I’m in constant communication with Representative Bobby Payne,” Pickens added. “Communications also continue with Representatives Paul Renner, Cyndi Stevenson and Travis Cummings, as well as Senators Rob Bradley and Travis Hutson, as they are committed to represent the interest of the College as a whole, not just the particular campus that is located within their district.”
FloArts Dean Alain Hentschel said during the School’s existence, it has assisted hundreds of graduates with transferring to four-year programs with scholarship offers or finding work in various industries.
“The mission of Florida School of the Arts has never been as strong,” Hentschel said. The students who come through our program are getting an excellent education, an education that many would not be able to pursue if they had to pay the high tuition rates of other programs. But the needs of our facilities are very real, and I welcome this potentially exciting news."
In addition to its academic mission, Florida School of the Arts is considered a cultural staple within the community. For almost 50 years, FloArts has provided thousands of patrons and generations of families with the best in the performing and visual arts.
The Florida School of the Arts began full operation in 1976 on the Palatka campus with a charter class of 51 students. Created by the Florida Legislature, FloArts is the first state-supported professional arts school for college students and serves the entire state of Florida. Admission is by audition and portfolio review. FloArts offers a variety of performing, visual arts and technical theatre degree programs including graphic design, studio art, acting, dance, musical theater, production design and stage management. The School offers 14 performances and 7 visual arts exhibitions each year.
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