Nearly dead four years ago, Edward Waters College is bouncing back.
By Clennon King
By 1997, the death watch was on for Jacksonville's Edward Waters College. Founded in 1866 and owned by the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the school owed creditors $4 million and couldn't meet its payroll. The student body had dwindled from 1,475 in 1966 to only 319, and the school's accreditation was at risk. Angry faculty and staff were complaining to the media. Meanwhile, the federal government was investigating the school's student loan program.
"Every businessperson I talked to was convinced the college would not survive another 12 months," says Jimmy Jenkins, whom church officials lured from a job as chancellor of Elizabeth City State University in North Carolina to take over at Edward Waters that year.
Since moving into an office that lacked air-conditioning, Jenkins, 57, has engineered a turnaround that many call miraculous. With help from U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, for example, Jenkins successfully convinced the U.S. Department of Education that poor record-keeping, and not misappropriation of funds, was to blame for $4.5 million in federal student loan money that was unaccounted for. Ultimately, federal auditors levied a $380,000 fine that the school will finish paying off this month.
Jenkins also appealed successfully to Jacksonville's business and philanthropic community for help. Among his key donors were the Jesse Ball DuPont Fund, which contributed $750,000; Winn-Dixie grocery chain owner Dano Davis, $600,000; design-build firm owner Preston Haskell, $500,000; and Jaguars NFL franchise owners Wayne and Delores Weaver, $250,000.
Meanwhile, Jenkins, who has a doctorate in biology, began overhauling curriculum. EWC now offers joint degree programs with the University of Florida School of Dentistry, the Florida Coastal School of Law, the Florida A&M Engineering School and the hospitality program at Florida Community College Jacksonville. Enrollment has climbed to nearly 1,000, and the school's staff hasn't missed a paycheck since Jenkins arrived.
Changes are evident outside the classroom as well. The college has a winning baseball team. The school, which discontinued its football program in 1966, is resurrecting its gridiron team, whose former players include Jacksonville Sheriff Nat Glover. In 1998, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, with the city of Jacksonville and the college, built a $1.2-million senior citizen health clinic on campus. The federal government, with matching dollars from the city, also has awarded EWC a $600,000 community development grant to improve the high-crime neighborhood around the college.
Things aren't perfect. Staff members say some creditors still prefer to deal with EWC on a cash-only basis. And the campus is still divided by busy U.S. 23/State Road 139, also known as King's Road.
Jenkins, an avid golfer, says he's not finished. He plans to boost enrollment to 3,000 -- by adding a graduate program -- and wants to establish a $15-million endowment with an aggressive fund-raising campaign. He also wants to add a gym, a dormitory and a fine-arts building.
Jenkins says the investment is sure to pay off. "We provide opportunities for people who otherwise would not get an education," he says, "people who might otherwise cost society double or triple to educate them in the long run."
In the News
Alachua County -- Shands at Alachua General Hospital in Gainesville completed the first phase of a $400,000 facelift. The second phase is expected to be completed by the spring.
Clay County -- AmeriCredit broke ground on an 85,000-sq.-ft., $12-million customer service center on Fleming Island. The investment by the consumer finance company, which specializes in high-risk automobile loans, will create 538 jobs.
Jacksonville -- The National Association of Home Builders ranked Jacksonville as the most affordable large market in the state last year. According to the study, the median price of a new Jacksonville home was $111,000.
Disposable-cup billionaire Kenneth Dart ["His Cup Runneth Over," September 2000] acquired 5.5% of Jacksonville-based Modis Professional Services (NYSE-MPS). The investor, known for buying stock in companies facing tough times, bought 5.3 million shares of the staffing and information-technology consulting company. Its stock, which traded at more than $30 in 1998, was selling for $4 in early January, slightly above its five-year low.
Jacksonville-based Ring Power Corp., which rents and sells construction equipment, plans to build two buildings and expand several others at its 36-acre site on Jacksonville's Southside.
Restaurant chain Arthur Treacher's will be spun off into a separate company by the end of the first quarter. Executives at the New York-based parent company, Digital Creative Development, say the chain will no longer be based in Jacksonville. Digital Creative plans to focus on internet entertainment content and services.
Aetna says it will cut 5,000 of its 40,000 positions in the coming year. The managed healthcare provider employs 2,500 in Jacksonville. In December, the company signed a new lease to keep its offices in downtown Jacksonville but in a smaller space.
Clearwater developer Matrix Lodging expects to break ground on a 242-room hotel at I-95 and Butler Boulevard in Jacksonville next month. Matrix eSuites Hotel, expected to open in the fall, is intended to cater to business travelers.
Fox Television Network has finished shooting eight hourlong episodes of a reality-based show called BootCamp at Camp Blanding and Cecil Field. The production pits 16 contestants against one another in a military-style boot camp as they vie for $500,000. The Jacksonville Film and Television office says the project employed 90 people during its eight-week production.
River Enclave Properties of Jacksonville will break ground next month on an 18-lot gated waterfront community on Jacksonville's Northside. Lots range from $180,000 to $230,000.
Jacksonville-based Enterprise North Florida has opened a small-business incubator. The public/private economic development agency expects the Technology Enterprise Center to be the hub of area tech activity.
Michael Munz, a former top aide to Jacksonville Mayor John Delaney, has taken a job at The Dalton Agency, where he will head the advertising and public relations firm's new strategic communications division. The firm helped spearhead the city's bid for the 2005 Super Bowl.
The Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce says that in the next five years BellSouth will add up to 1,000 local jobs and HCA will create another 540.
Delta Air Lines' Comair subsidiary last month began operating the first-ever nonstop service between Boston and Jacksonville.
Orange Park -- St. Johns River Community College broke ground on a $17-million center for the arts. The 60,000-sq.-ft. facility has been in the works 12 years and will feature a 1,700-seat auditorium.
St. Augustine -- The 305-year-old Castillo de San Marcos will undergo $3 million in repairs and be closed for up to a year. The fort's concrete gun deck will be replaced, cracks in the coquina walls will be repaired, and the electrical system will be updated. A date for the closing has not been set.
Tree of Life decided to move its headquarters, now near downtown St. Augustine, to Golfway Center, the first office development under construction near the World Golf Village. About 125 of the specialty-food distributor's 6,000 employees will work at the new location.
St. Johns County-- Pittsburgh billionaire Henry Hillman spent another $26 million on the remaining commercial acreage at the World Golf Village. The investment follows Hillman Properties' $50-million-plus investment on The King & The Bear property nearly two years ago.
The St. Johns County Commission granted a rezoning request to the Family Fun Outlet for construction of a paintball course. The business, which has been open a year, started construction on the course last month.