MELBOURNE — Eastern Florida State College's first student dormitories may open in time for fall semester 2019, continuing the rapid evolution of the Melbourne campus.
Monday morning, the EFSC board of trustees unanimously decided to pursue construction of an initial 96-bed student housing complex at the site of the Wickham Park Pavilion.
Someday, this 10-acre property may accommodate more than 500 students. EFSC officials have long believed that "transformative" Melbourne dormitories will attract serious students who seek a full-time college experience, rather than commuting to and from class.
"It's been on our minds and the community's minds for probably the last 25 years, for BCC and Eastern Florida to have a life campus with dormitories or student living facilities on the property itself," said Moses Harvin, board trustee.
"So I think that this is a great move, and I support this," Harvin said.
The $5.2 million student housing project will complement the college's $74.8 million, decade-long expansion plan for the Melbourne campus, which features five academic buildings and a new student union. Officials unveiled the expansion plan in August 2014.
The Public Safety Institute and Health Sciences Institute have since opened. After an October groundbreaking, construction of the 32,000-square-foot student union should wrap up next fall, said John Glisch, associate vice president of communications. Plans also call for a Center for Innovative Technology Education, a business building and a hospitality management/culinary arts building.
“Our research has indicated an overwhelming desire for our students to be provided with the option of student housing. In fact, the most recent housing survey, concluded in spring of 2017, indicated that 47 percent of the 1,300 students taking the survey would be interested in living on campus in student housing," EFSC President Jim Richey told trustees.
"Another 25 percent said they may be interested as well,” Richey said.
The initial construction phase may include a pair of three-story, 13,000-square-foot buildings housing 48 students each, said Stockton Whitten, associate vice president of facilities and special projects.
Students would occupy four-bedroom, two-bath suites with kitchens and living space. Next door, a smaller common-area building would house a laundry, mailboxes, a study area and a multi-purpose room.
“There’s a high level of confidence on our part that we will be at capacity very quickly with this first housing unit. As soon as it becomes available — most likely before,” Jack Parker, vice president of external affairs, told trustees.
Neither building designs nor student rental rates have been finalized. Whitten said trustees will likely hire an architectural firm and a construction management firm in February, then vote on the final project in August with a guaranteed maximum price.
Dorm construction will be financed using funds collected from college business activities, such as vending contracts and leasing cell towers on campuses. No student tuition money will be used.
“Very preliminary estimates indicate the project could generate a positive cash flow of about 35 percent to 45 percent of the total income generated from the new housing units. In turn, those funds could be used as seed money to possibly build more student housing in the future,” Glisch said.
Built by Brevard County on property leased from the college, the Wickham Park Pavilion has hosted hundreds of community events and fundraisers. The county's 30-year lease expires at year's end.
The popular pavilion has hosted hemp festivals, Space Coast Pride, '80s in the Park, ABATE of Florida motorcycle toy runs, Indiafest, the medieval-themed Dragon Festival, political rallies, concerts, pet events and free movies in the park.
To replace the facility, county officials have built a new 12,240-square-foot pavilion inside Wickham Park, east of the equestrian center at at the end of Leisure Way. The final inspection is scheduled for Friday, said Shay Saldana, parks and recreation marketing specialist.
EFSC will join seven other Florida State College institutions — including Indian River State College in Fort Pierce and Florida State College at Jacksonville — that offer student housing.
Parker said the first residence halls will require 50 to 60 additional parking spaces, and they will not impact campus parking patterns. Alan Landman, trustee board chairman, said master planning is key.
“You have to have your growth in order. Otherwise, you’re going to end up with a UCF situation where people pay for their parking pass or their premium parking pass — and then they leave an hour early and can’t find a parking spot," Landman said.
The college will create a student housing corporation to operate residence halls, much like it does the King Center for the Performing Arts and the EFSC Foundation.
Neale is South Brevard watchdog reporter for FLORIDA TODAY.
Contact Neale at 321-242-3638