The first part of renovations to Polk State College’s Winter Haven Fine Arts (WFA) Building on the Winter Haven Campus is complete, signifying significant progress for a project that stakeholders call a collaborative effort and a long time coming.
Built in 1978, WFA is a 65,000-square-foot facility that houses several programs. When the project began more than two years ago, the College determined that more than 1,600 students took classes in the building daily.
“We’re looking for a state-of-the-art facility that will give students everything they need right here at Polk State College, so that they won’t have to think about going elsewhere to get their education in the visual arts, the performing arts, in music,” said Kim Thomas, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs. “This will give another cultural outlet for the community.”
For Phase I, which is exterior renovations, brick replacements have been completed. Construction crews continue to work on replacing the 78,500-square-foot roof. Interior construction is set to begin in December.
“It’s a rewarding time for the students, the community, the faculty, the staff, and for The Arts,” said Nancy Lozell, Program Manager for The Arts. “It’s going to be an amazing experience when it’s completed. The first time I saw someone on the roof, I thought, ‘wow, it’s really happening.’ I just can’t thank everyone enough for all their support and their hard work.”
The project has been a collaborative effort between Polk State faculty, staff, and administrators. Prior to the start, faculty members weighed in on what was needed to improve each of their programs. In addition to modernizing classroom and lab space, the multi-phased project will replace dated building systems, which will also benefit the community, including those with disabilities.
“It was a very comprehensive process,” said Theatre Professor Mark Hartfield. “We’ve been working on this for years; even before we knew there was going to be funding, conversations took place to list what we thought needed to be done. What do theatre programs, what do modern arts programs, what do modern music programs have that could be used at Polk State?
“As we moved into it, we added experts in engineering, architects, our Facilities staff and others along the campus, including Academic Affairs, because there are classes that have to be managed and maintained,” Hartfield added. “We were kept informed as things continued to happen through this process.”
In addition to putting their collective minds together, Professors Holly Scoggins and Andrew Coombs were able to utilize their art skills. After classroom space was measured, the two drew renderings of what a completed classroom may look like. That was used by architects and engineers in the planning process.
“A lot of work went into planning these renovations,” Coombs said. “This is the first time I’ve been part of something like this. Having that professional side with the architects and administrators helping guide us and listening to us and letting us know what was possible with our different areas of expertise has been fantastic.”
One piece at a time
As construction shifts indoors, renovations will be made in phases to maximize efficiency. The first portion of interior construction will affect the backstage, storage, shop areas, and the Music wing. Demolition for parts of these spaces is set to get underway this month. By winter break, interior construction will begin in the Theatre and Humanities wings. Completion of these projects is tentatively set for July 2024.
“Having these facilities complete is going to be a draw for our programs,” said Craig Collins, Associate Vice President for Corporate and Leadership Development. “There are so many facets to arts design. When you walk into an arts facility, it should scream creativity.”
Notable improvements to the interior include a new HVAC system, a fly reel system and projection for the theater, and signage in the lobby to keep students and patrons up to date on upcoming events. The gallery will soon have two entranceways instead of one.
“Seeing construction happen and the noise level in the classroom should be of annoyance to me, but it is so exciting,” Scoggins said. “A little banging here and there, hearing noises, and seeing people on the roof is really exciting. It’s given me a burst of energy I didn’t know I needed.”
The second part of construction to the interior of the WFA Building will begin toward the end of the Spring 2024 Semester in May. The focus will be the Art and Ceramics wings. To keep from disrupting the student experience and to ensure they can take needed classes, Coombs and Scroggins will teach 12-week classes that run from the start of the semester in January until March.
“It’s an enormous event to try to redo a building while keeping it operational,” Hartfield said. “There are a lot of companies that make renovations, but they have the luxury of shutting things down. We had to keep things as open and functional as possible while the work was going on. That’s required an immense amount of cooperation from everybody who works here and the students.”
Following the 12-week courses, Art and Ceramics programs will vacate their spaces to allow for work to be completed over the end of the spring and throughout the summer semesters. This will allow the programs to return for the Fall 2024 Semester under normal circumstances and with fully renovated spaces.
“The biggest takeaway is how much we worked together with the goal in mind of giving the students the best education possible,” Coombs said. “We were all centered around that one core goal. These renovations are really going to enhance the student experience.”
As renovations take place, Polk State staff have been forced to make adjustments, such as relocating classes to different rooms, including the theater. The gallery has served as a storage area, but in the end, administrators think it will be worth it.
“All of The Arts programs had to collaborate, so that we could ensure that in the midst of preparing this space to be state-of-the-art and welcoming to the community, we had to ensure that we were still teaching,” Thomas said. “All of our departments came together to create a plan where we could still use the available space for teaching while allowing the contractors to do what they had to do. We had to get creative and adjust our scheduling to make sure the teaching and learning process continued without any interruption.”
The entirety of the project will be completed by the end of 2024. For Polk State staff, watching the progress has been a rewarding experience.
“It’s gratifying to be part of the process. It’s something many of us had never done before,” Lozell added. “It’s just so exciting to see what we’re going to bring to the students and the community when we’re all done. The enhancements will improve our students’ journey and the patrons’ arts experience.”
Bringing the project to life
While faculty and staff from The Arts knew what was necessary to enhance their programs, they were far from alone in bringing it to life. Advocates internally and externally played a major role.
“This really was a team effort in terms of putting these renovations together – from the support of the administration and of course, the legislature with the funding to do this – and all the faculty within the Music and Arts,” Coombs said. “Dr. Collins has been instrumental in helping get this together, Nancy Lozell as well. It’s been a fantastic group effort in creating a space that we really want.”
With the urging of the Florida Legislature’s Polk County Delegation, the College was able to secure $16.3 million in funding for the project during the 2021 Legislative Session. An additional $172,000 Capital Improvement Grant from Polk County Tourism & Sports Marketing will allow for additional upgrades such as a sound system in the gallery that will feed into the lobby area.
“The biggest impact will be to recruitment,” Thomas said. “I like to compare it to a college athlete looking at colleges. Typically, they will look at the facilities available. By enhancing our facilities, we will be attracting students.”
Prior to the 2021 Legislative Session, Polk State had not received public funding for the WFA Building since 2008 when it received nearly $644,000 in Public Education Capital Outlay (PECO) funds to modernize the theatre, which hosts student performances and wide variety of community and cultural events. The College was also able to complete an exterior door lockdown system to enhance security for staff and students.
“I believe the most important part of this process is that the students not only receive this high-quality education in The Arts, but the students now have the facility to match that,” Scoggins said. “They don’t have to go to Tampa or Orlando to get that top-notch experience to make art, music, or to act. I would like to thank our State Legislature and (Polk State President) Dr. (Angela Garcia) Falconetti for supporting this project. We’ve been waiting many, many years, so we’re really grateful to the people who made this happen.”