FSC Plans to Buy Former St. Joseph Academy for Graduate Nursing Program

Florida Southern College plans to move its graduate nursing program into the former campus of St. Joseph Academy, a private K-8 school that the Catholic Church’s Diocese of Orlando shuttered after the 2019-2020 school year. Before buying the property, FSC needs city approval for a change in land use.

The academy buildings, located at 310 Frank Lloyd Wright Way, are several blocks west of the School of Nursing and Health Science’s Joe M. and Alberta Blanton Building at 947 Johnson Ave.

When the Blanton building was constructed, the school did not have a graduate nursing program, said Terry Dennis, vice president of finance and administration for the college. “We are flat slammed in there now with the undergraduate and graduate programs going on. Nurses are in high demand. We have a lot of undergrads wanting to go into nursing,” Dennis said.

If all goes as planned, the graduate program will move to the former St. Joseph Academy building in time for fall semester classes, he said.

That would provide space in the Blanton building to accommodate additional undergraduate students, and eventually for the graduate program to accept additional students and expand course offerings, Dennis said. And it would free up some parking near the Blanton building, he said.

The city’s Planning at Zoning Commission is scheduled on May 18 to hear the college’s request for a major modification to a conditional use permit that would change the use from elementary-middle school to adult education. The plan also needs approval from the Lakeland City Commission.

The college is under contract to buy the 4.67-acre campus from the diocese, provided no major impediments come up during the zoning process, Dennis said.

“We are not sensing any major opposition,” Dennis said. “Most people like the looks of the sanctuary. Leaving the exterior of the buildings just as they area is a pleasant thing for the neighborhood.”

Billy Townsend, president of the Lake Morton Neighborhood Association, said the group’s nonprofit board of directors discussed the proposal at length, then he sent a letter to city planning officials emphasizing concerns that the exterior of the buildings not be changed, the parking lots remain as they are except for landscaping and the open spaces remain.

Townsend said that after a discussion with college officials, he feels confident that “as a neighborhood experience it, it is not going to change a whole lot.”

The acreage is spread over nine parcels, the centerpiece of which is a 38,430-square-foot education building and an 18,888 square-foot sanctuary building that also contains offices and other rooms.

The buildings are in a block bounded by Frank Lloyd Wright Way, Pennsylvania Avenue, Success Street and South Boulevard. The acreage also includes four paved parking areas adjacent to the buildings, a grassy parking area to the west off South Boulevard and a large green space to the east along Pennsylvania Avenue.

The Diocese of Orlando had put the St. Joseph Academy property on the market last fall for $5.15 million. Dennis said he is not at liberty to disclose the purchase price at this time.

Southside Baptist Church built the Greek-temple style sanctuary in 1967 and added the educational building in 1981, according to an article in The Ledger.

In 2008, the Diocese of Orlando bought the campus for $3.5 million and converted it to St. Joseph Academy. In 2017, the church invested heavily in updating the classroom building.

When St. Joseph’s Academy closed a year ago, it was serving 185 elementary and middle-school students, about half the number allowed under its city conditional use permit.

According to the conditional use plan that Kimley-Horn and Associates filed on behalf of the college: “No substantial site changes are proposed beyond removing drop-off line signage and restrictions. Peak-hour trip generation will likely be spread over an entire day and will not involve peak morning drop-off and peak afternoon pickup lines.”

The plans also state that the parking will remain unchanged except for updating landscaping in parking areas to meet city code. A butterfly garden separating two parking lots will remain.

The college estimates that initially 100 to 150 graduate students will be attending classes in the former elementary-middle school building, but over the course of several years the number could grow to 350 to 400 students.

Dennis said that the college will find appropriate uses for the sanctuary building for the next four or five years, such as a lecture hall for speakers that do not require the 1,800- seat capacity of the college auditorium or for short-term lease to a church needing a temporary home for Sunday services.

But as the graduate nursing program grows, eventually the interior of the sanctuary building likely will be converted into classrooms, medical training labs and office space, he said.

Approximately 380 nursing students currently are enrolled in Florida Southern College’s bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate of nursing programs, 127 of whom are in the graduate programs or earning post-master’s certificates, according to the college’s website.

Currently, master’s in nursing programs include family nurse practitioner, adult gerontology primary care nurse practitioner, nursing administrative leadership and nurse educator. The doctoral program is in nursing practice.

The May 18 meeting of the Planning and Zoning Commission begins at 8:30 a.m. in the City Commission Room at City Hall, 228 S. Massachusetts Ave.

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