Orlando Sentinel - June 21, 2007
Present meets past at FSC
A cyber cafe coexists with Frank Lloyd Wright buildings.
Christine Baker | Special to the Sentinel
Florida Southern College in Lakeland is a private college steeped in
tradition. Founded in 1883 as a Methodist seminary, the school has
clung steadfastly to its original mission of emphasizing a moral and
ethical education, along with academics.
It is well-known for its music program and excels in science
It is also duly proud of its buildings, which make up the largest
single-site collection of Frank Lloyd Wright structures in the
Yet big changes are percolating through the coquina walls of the
small, quiet college.
The library, for instance, now has more in common with a Barnes &
Noble Booksellers than the hushed, solemn sanctuary it used to be.
There is a Starbucks and cafe within the library, with comfy chairs
and sofas, and music is piped in, breaking the traditional silence.
Wireless is available, as are computers. A large flat-screen TV
entertains the cyber cafe regulars.
Like a Southern belle who has traded in her ball gown and fan for a
T-shirt, jeans and an iPod, Florida Southern is revamping its image
to reflect the needs of 21st century college students, officials
Leading the way for change is its decidedly Southern president, Anne
Kerr joined the college in 2004, resigning as the vice president of
advancement at the University of Richmond in Virginia.
Kerr hails from Augusta, Ga., but she has strong Florida ties.
Before her Virginia tenure, Kerr had leadership positions at both
the University of Central Florida and Rollins College.
Kerr said the college's emphasis on volunteerism, citizenship and
leadership training resonates with her own values. She also saw
areas in need of attention, and she wanted to help the school
realize its potential.
"When I came, we didn't have any wireless capability, [and] now I
would say three-quarters of the campus is wireless, and students
love that," Kerr said.
"You know this generation can watch TV, be on the computer, drinking
coffee, talking to friends -- it's just this very interactive,
dynamic way of living and learning. And so that's what we're trying
to do, is get the infrastructure together to support that."
Another area needing attention when Kerr arrived was the restoration
of the Frank Lloyd Wright structures that were built on campus
between 1939 and 1958. Change hasn't been the only thing affecting
the porous coquina walls. Decades of rainstorms have deteriorated
the soft sand, shell and concrete blocks that make up much of
"I was so overwhelmed," said Kerr, describing her initial reaction
to the structural problems, "because every building I went in --
some piece of it was crumbling; it was leaking. And I worried that
it would all collapse on my watch."
While previous attempts were made to repair the structures, lack of
money was always an issue.
Kerr went to work, first to find funding sources for the
considerable restoration project, and then to find architects
capable of restoring and adding to buildings that thousands flock to
yearly from all over the world, and many consider works of art.
"We are trying to continue our architectural heritage by hiring
eminent architects," Kerr said.
Florida Southern this year received a $1.6 million state
appropriation. In 2006, the college was awarded a Getty Foundation
grant of $195,000 to fund a study by the architectural firm Mesick
Cohen Wilson Baker Architects of Albany, N.Y.
The firm is writing a preservation master plan for the buildings,
structures and landscapes designed by Wright.
"They've done other projects like this . . . for William and Mary
and University of Virginia," Kerr said. "They are making
recommendations for what we need to be doing to restore the
structures and then the long-term conservation of the structures --
how they can best be used."
The college has also hired Robert A.M. Stern, dean of the Yale
School of Architecture and a Wright scholar. Stern and his firm of
the same name will design the school's new dormitory and new
These two buildings are being designed in a style reminiscent of the
Wright buildings on campus. The new Y-shaped dormitory will have
large overhangs that mimic the school's famous esplanades, the low,
flat-roofed walkways with geometric cutouts that line much of the
In a nod to modernity, the dormitory also will house a technology
center and a theater and will provide wireless access to residents
in the 195-bedroom facility. The dormitories are expected to be
ready by fall 2008.
As for the Wright projects, Kerr anticipates that restoring those
buildings will take 10 years and $50 million.
"And we'll do it all through contributions," she said.
Other changes afoot include the launch of a four-year nursing
program this year, updated landscaping, a new archives center and a
possible architectural degree -- which would seem to fit nicely with
the school's heritage.
With all of the renovations in the works, it is hoped Florida
Southern can bring back the elegant simplicity of Wright's designs.
"I just really believe that institutions of higher education have to
be the examples of evolution and continuous improvement," Kerr said.
"If an institution just stays static, it won't meet the needs of our
students. And at the end of the day, that's what we're trying to do
-- prepare these young people to go out and be successful and make a
consequential impact on the world."
Copyright © 2007, Orlando Sentinel