State College of Florida Sarasota-Manatee’s new brand rapidly emerging

State College of Florida Manatee-Sarasota is building a new $20 million Library & Learning Center in the heart of its Bradenton campus, and a tour of the facility proves it’s anything but quaint and traditional.

The library, set to open in February, is eye-catching with its windows and spaces for students, especially on the second floor. It boasts a 200-seat community room for meetings after the rest of the library is closed.

The new library also has “creative maker spaces” with 3D printers, a sound studio and spaces with Microsoft hubs for students to work together. A time capsule was added in a vault beneath the structure, set to open in a century or so.

SCF President Carol Probstfeld calls the library “the most significant building we have built in the last 25 years and the next 25 years on this campus.”

State College of Florida President Carol Probstfeld in the President's dining room. Tiffany Tompkins

“It will be a different type of library than the libraries of my time,” Prosbtfeld said. “One of my favorite spaces is called The Big Thinking Hub. It’s a technology-free zone, so if I am missing you know where to find me: a place where my cell phone can’t ring.”

In a lot of ways, the library is a perfect example of SCF’s new philosophy of rebranding.

Probstfeld wants the college to be more engaged in all aspects of life around the college, including business, culture and societal.

“We want to position our college at the center of the economic, educational and cultural life of our community,” Probsfeld told the Herald in a recent interview on the Bradenton campus.

To that end, anyone with a Manatee or Sarasota county library card can use the SCF library when it opens, and people can hold meetings in the community room.

A worker in the new library at Bradenton's State College of Florida Campus. Tiffany Tompkins

She wants SCF to be a problem-solver in the community. She wants to share the college’s brain trust. In fact, her 2015-2020 strategic plan is headlined “Boldly Engaging.”

One of the plan’s key strategic priorities is to increase student enrollment and retention rates, which Probstfeld believes will take care of itself if the college becomes the central point in the region.

To do this takes some brick and mortar

To embrace the community in the way that Probstfeld envisions takes some brick-and-mortar expansion, even more than just the new library.

To that end, SCF announced in September that it had purchased 74 acres in Parrish to build a new campus in the coming years.

“We did an educational plant survey of all of our holdings as an institution and found where our student population was most likely to be growing and expanding next. And that was east of Interstate 75 and north of the river, so it was our commitment to make sure we had a presence there,” Probtsfeld said.

“The new Parrish campus will provide those living north of the Manatee River an open access institution for enhancing their skills and furthering their education,” said Probstfeld. “SCF plans to offer general education courses leading to an A.A. degree as well as workforce degrees and certificates that will benefit students and employers in the region.”

The population there is estimated currently at 40,000 and growing, according to county data figures. Directly across the street from the SCF property, the School Board of Manatee County has purchased 95 acres to build North River High School, a 334,000-square-foot facility scheduled to open in 2019.

Future SCF building plans include a new 40,348-square-foot Health and Human Performance Center and a $3.5 million Studio for the Performing Arts on the Bradenton campus, 5840 26th St. W., both with the goal to help increase student enrollment and retention.

Receptive to workforce needs

Probstfeld’s philosophy for the college is extremely focused on meeting local workforce needs of employers in the region.

“We must provide programs that are going to be responsive to the needs of our community,” Probstfeld said.

To help that process, SCF now offers six bachelor’s degrees. Nursing was the first, starting in 2009, four years before Probstfeld became president. The latest one is Public Safety and Emergency Management, which started last year.

In between, SCF established Early Childhood Education, Health Services Administration, International Business and Trade and Technology Management degrees.

A worker in the new library at Bradenton's State College of Florida Campus. Tiffany Tompkins

SCF works closely with The Mosaic Company, Benchmark EnviroAnalytical in Palmetto, Manatee Memorial Hospital, Universal Insurance Managers and DTC Inc., an engineering and consulting company based in Sarasota, among many others, said Toni Jefferies, an SCF spokeswoman.

SCF is graduating people ready for hands-on employment, said Dale Dixon, laboratory director at Benchmark EnviroAnalytical.

“SCF graduates who have joined Benchmark are very well-trained for laboratory analytical work, including the understanding of quality control and ethics in documentation,” Dixon said. “I feel fortunate to have this resource in my neighborhood.”

How it got to where it is today

From humble roots planted by civic leaders in 1957, Manatee Junior College had grown into Manatee Community College by 1985. It became State College of Florida in 2009, a name chosen to reflect the college’s role in the Florida College System.

The timing is right for SCF’s new regional identity, former presidents Sarah Pappas and Lars Hafner said in separate interviews with the Bradenton Herald.

“What we did is plant a garden and we are seeing that garden really grow,” said Hafner, who was SCF president from 2008 to 2012 and is now an on-air political analyst for a Tampa television station and an education consultant.

The new library under construction at Bradenton's State College of Florida Campus. Tiffany Tompkins

“I get credit because I hired her,” Pappas said of Probstfeld. “But she has made all the right moves. I think getting permission (in 2009) to have a bachelors of arts degree in nursing was huge. I was hearing about that 17 years ago. People would tell me, ‘We love your associates of arts but we want bachelor’s. Now, every time I meet a nurse I ask them, ‘Where did you get your degree?’ So many say SCF.

“Carol has discovered that many skilled workforce jobs go begging in the region,” said Pappas, SCF president from 1997 to 2008. “She decided to build part of SCF’s brand around workforce programs. These programs are essential to SCF expanding its role. They are asking businesses what kind of programs they need — solar energy, health care, physical therapy.”

Said Hafner: “The regionalism of the college along with the name change and the addition of four-year bachelors of arts programs have given SCF students more bounce to their step.”

How the brick and mortar was paid for

The fact that the new library is meant to play a key role in the community helped achieve financing through the Florida Legislature, with the help of state Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, and Rep. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton.

“Sen. Galvano and Rep. Boyd were the lynch pins that shepherded this project through and made sure it came to fruition,” Probstfeld said. “They are both alums of ours. It was sort of nice to have two of our own helping us build this building.”

Having a community room and the promise that Bradenton and Sarasota citizens can use the new library made it easier for Galvano and Boyd to secure state funding, which amounted to $17.68 million, Probstfeld said.

Donors have added $1.2 million for the library.

SCF’s future in the hands of donors

It wasn’t long after she assumed her duties as president that Probstfeld realized she needed to develop a robust private donor program to supplement state and federal funding for the capital projects that she felt vital to the college’s growth.

In 2014, Probstfeld hired Cassandra Holmes to be executive director of the SCF Foundation. Her mission? Excite donors.

Cassandra Holmes, the president of the SCF Foundation, at the Bradenton Campus. Tiffany Tompkins

“Cassandra is very modest, but she was able to out-raise herself in 2016 for the Library & Learning Center,” said Jamie Smith, an SCF spokeswoman. “We raised $1.2 million for the library four months ahead of schedule.”

Holmes is also skilled at communicating Probstfeld’s dreams and goals, Smith added.

Not only are library private donations pacing above expectations, but Holmes has also raised money for the Health & Human Performance Center and the Studio for the Performing Arts on the Bradenton campus.

“Capital fund raising for schools is not very sexy, and it doesn’t have the same impact as raising money for a scholarship for a student,” Smith said. “There you know you are helping a child go to the next level and to be the next star or superstar. It’s very challenging for Cassandra to raise money for capital, even in a very giving community. But Cassandra is just pushing forward to people about the passion of the leadership here, the success we have had and the determination of our students.

“Those stories tell themselves.”

Richard Dymond: 941-745-7072, @RichardDymond