By STEVEN RYZEWSKI | Executive Editor
POLK COUNTY — Florida Polytechnic University celebrated another milestone last week.
The STEM-focused university is the closest of Florida’s public, four-year universities to the Four Corners area. Located is just 20 miles down Interstate 4 from the I-4/State Road 429 interchange, is most readily associated with its unique Innovation, Science and Technology Building — immediately visible from the interstate — designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava.
Soon, the IST Building will have a companion. Florida Poly leaders, elected officials and others gathered the morning of Sept. 11 for a groundbreaking ceremony for the university’s new Applied Research Center. The ceremony comes roughly five years after the school first opened its doors to students.
“It’s hard to believe that just over five years ago we were all gathered … to open the university and welcome our students to the start of classes,” Florida Poly President Dr. Randy K. Avent said. “We’ve come a long way since then and our progress is really quite remarkable.”
When finished, the Applied Research Center (ARC) will be over 85,000-square-feet and house research and teaching laboratories, student design spaces, conference rooms and faculty offices.
It will be Florida Poly’s second academic building, located on the northwest side of campus, adjacent to the IST Building. Construction is expected to take two years.
“It was designed with the goal of creating a dynamic, functional and flexible space that will assist our faculty and students with the commercialization of innovation and applied research,” Avent said.
The milestone is yet another in the short life of the school, one that aims to ready its students for an ever-changing jobs market.
“The vision of this university is to prepare students to be able to go forward to have an applied job in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) and to adjust and meet the needs of our nation in a quick and nimble way is very exciting,” said state Sen. Kelli Stargel, who spoke during the ceremony.
State Rep. Colleen Burton, who also spoke, said the addition of the school has been a boon not just to its students, but to the larger community in Polk County and Central Florida, at large.
“Florida Poly has exceeded our expectations,” Burton said.
The construction of the building is certain to be the most noticeable development at the university’s campus in the coming months, but not the only one. Avent referenced a five-year strategic plan the school completed in 2018 and plans for a research park adjacent to the campus. Also, the school recently received ABET accreditation for its bachelor’s degrees — another milestone.
“Being ABET accredited tells prospective students, peers and industry leaders that the quality of our degrees has been recognized internationally,” Avent said.
Local leaders and elected officials continue to champion the school for its focus on STEM and its location — and the possibilities that combination opens for economic growth in the region.
“This university is vital,” Stargel said.