Interview With Terry Dennis

Frank Lloyd Wright Architecture

Apr 28, 2021

by Kelsey Elmhorst
Student Reporter

Terry Dennis, who has been the Vice President of Finance and Business Affairs at Florida Southern College for more than 30 years, took some time out of his busy day to talk to me about his involvement with the Planetarium restoration. He is the middleman between the construction team, administration, Dr. Kerr, and the press. His primary responsibility is making sure each party is satisfied and deadlines are being met. Our conversation was eye-opening, and I learned more about the Planetarium as has been the case as I have interviewed all those involved.

First, we talked a little bit about Mr. Dennis’ history with the Frank Lloyd Wright projects at FSC. I’ve always been under the impression that the Water Dome was the first Frank Lloyd Wright project that Dr. Kerr spearheaded when she arrived on our campus. However, it was actually the Esplanades that were first project that was started. A construction team came in and lifted specific Esplanades so that concrete could be poured under them to make them level. This project was completed over the span of a couple of years. The Water Dome did become the first Frank Lloyd Wright project completed under Dr. Kerr’s leadership.

Mr. Dennis was also a part of building the Usonian House in 2013, on the northern side of campus. Following the City of Lakeland standards while still honoring Wright’s vision was a big challenge for those who were involved. Wright had a vision of many Usonian houses built around the perimeter of campus for teachers and staff to live in while working at FSC. This, of course, did not come to fruition, however the one that was built in 2013 gives visitors a great idea of what that would have looked like.

After Mr. Dennis filled me in about the Usonian House, we began our discussion about the Planetarium. Our conversation started with me letting him know that as a student, I have been impacted by the construction in Polk Science since I have a class being taught right underneath the construction. Due to Mr. Dennis’ coordination with the construction team the sounds of construction no longer affect our classes.

Mr. Dennis said the exterior of the Planetarium should be completed by July with a few that will be completed on the interior shortly thereafter. Ideally, students will be able to come explore the Planetarium when restoration is complete. Mr. Dennis told me about how students from the 1960’s and 70’s still come up to him with fond memories of field trips to the Planetarium. In the future, Mr. Dennis hopes current K-12 Polk County Students can have those same memories.

At the end of our interview, I asked Mr. Dennis if he had anything that he wanted me to share in this blog. He spoke highly of the construction crew. Contractors are pretty set in their ways, but this crew has made the appropriate adaptations to their schedule based on our classes. As mentioned in previous blogs, the team is also trying their best to color match the textile blocks. When the Polk Science building was being built in 1958, students did the construction. With not much professional experience, each block had the potential of being slightly different. The construction crew is now having to match the original color of each block, which is difficult to do when they are all slightly different colors.

I learned so much more about the Planetarium during this interview with Mr. Dennis and I can’t wait for the next step of the restoration!

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