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USF Polytechnic Survives the Veto Pen

USF Polytechnic
The top circular structure is the Innovation, Science and Technology building that recently received funding. Money for the school of pharmacy, just to the left, was vetoed. Funding for the wellness center, to the right, was also vetoed but private funds are being raised to build it. The oblong buildings to the right of the lake will be housing. The oblong buildings to the left of the lake will be classrooms. [Rendering: USF Polytechnic]

When Gov. Rick Scott sat down with his red veto pen this summer, he marked through college and university capital projects like a freshman English comp professor.

Reiterating his reluctance for Florida to borrow more in the bond market, Scott vetoed funds for more than three dozen higher-education projects statewide, including a public health lab at FAMU, a new Levy County branch for the College of Central Florida and UF's Lake Nona Research Lab.

Only one appropriation survived: $35 million to build a campus for USF Polytechnic in Lakeland, a pet project of Senate budget chief J.D. Alexander. The reprieve reflects both Alexander's influence and the political rise of Florida's first and only polytechnic — a hands-on school that emphasizes "active, applied learning" and focuses on the technical over the liberal arts.

Senate budget chief J.D. Alexander
The fact that USF Polytechnic survived Gov. Rick Scott's budget cutting is a testament to Senate budget chief J.D. Alexander's clout.

USF Polytechnic has been around since 1988, when it opened as a joint-use campus in Lakeland with Polk State College. But the new campus, planned on 170 acres at I-4 and the Polk Parkway, has become a focal point in a new vision for the Lakeland/Polk County region as it transitions from its phosphate-dominated past to a higher-tech future.

The $35 million will pay for USF Polytechnic's first building, which is being designed by noted Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. His creation will house the College of Technology and Innovation, which combines traditional business, engineering and information technology disciplines into one college. Infrastructure work is scheduled to begin this month.

Although Scott approved the $35 million, he vetoed funds for USF Polytechnic's School of Pharmacy and Interdisciplinary Center for Excellence and Wellness Research, also planned for the new campus. Polytechnic is moving ahead with the latter after an anonymous $5 million donation for the wellness-research center. It is also building residential student housing with private donations.

USF Polytechnic Chancellor Marshall Goodman says he thinks one reason the campus survived Scott's veto pen is that the community has donated so much to the effort — some $31 million total. "We didn't come to him hat in hand," Goodman says. "This has been a public-private partnership. It took the whole region to persuade him."