PORT ST. LUCIE — It’s moving day at NW University Boulevard. There won’t be a university here after today.
And the only way you know you’re at the recently suspended Treasure Coast campus is because the university’s name is on a sign up ahead. Or it used to be. It’s hard to see now that the letters are scraped off, and the sign is stained.
Barricades connected by black and yellow caution tape are all around the fronts of buildings. They’re there to make room for the moving trucks.
Remaining faculty skitter away, retreating to their offices, getting ready to relocate.
The interiors of each building have been stripped away, packed and sealed in boxes stacked in empty rooms.
Welcome to FAU’s desolate, former campus in Port St. Lucie.
Four years ago, FAU was spending $10 million on a new, two-story building with state of the art technology. Now it’s facing a $24.7 million budget cut from the state, suspending the campus and moving faculty and staff to campuses in Harbor Branch, Jupiter and Boca.
Almost every faculty and staff member at Treasure Coast is unwilling to talk. Some are too busy packing the campus away, others refuse to risk the jobs they secured on other campuses.
On the third floor of the Administration Building, there’s an office with a cracked door emitting light at the end of a dark hallway. It’s the office of the only person willing to go on record, Crystal Atkinson, the budget director for FAU’s Northern Campuses.
“It’s sad, but it’s change,” Atkinson says. She’s been with the university for 27 years, and calls herself a “hopper,” someone who hops between campuses. She’s hopped between the Jupiter and Treasure Coast campuses for years.
Now Atkinson will be stationed on the John D. MacArthur campus in Jupiter, along with other faculty and staff who secured jobs there.
Nursing and library faculty in Port St. Lucie are moving just 20 miles north to the university’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute in Fort Pierce. Other faculty and staff remaining will relocate to Jupiter or as far south as the main campus in Boca.
The Boca campus is an 80 mile trip from the Treasure Coast campus.
The board of trustees — FAU’s 13 highest ranking officials — are voting to suspend the downtown Fort Lauderdale campus.
“We rent it, we don’t own it. We’re going to pay millions of dollars to keep our sign on top of a building?” Trustee Anthony Barbar says. “That’s not helping us. We need to do what’s right for Florida Atlantic University, and not anybody else.”
Another trustee gives his own reason for approving the suspension.
“The programs are phenomenal, just not necessarily the location,” Trustee Paul Tanner says at the BOT meeting before voting to suspend the tower.
The Reubin O’D Askew tower on FAU’s Fort Lauderdale campus opened in 1987 under the university’s last female president, Helen Popovich. Now it’s set to close next June under FAU’s second female president.
“This location is a great fit for our programs,” Stephanie Cunningham signed on an online petition to keep the campus open. Cunningham is a graphic design professor on the campus, who along with other faculty started the “SAVE FAU FTL” campaign to keep the tower downtown as part of the university.
Two students and a professor from the campus are speaking to the trustees about its decision. Shane Eason, multimedia professor, told the trustees about staff who are still unaware they’re being laid off.
“Specific job losses are going to happen in Fort Lauderdale,” Eason said. “There is staff downtown who are still unaware of this. It needs to be reiterated to them.”
The students remind the trustees of the weight their decision carries.
“This is an opportunity to create a legacy, and the only thing being created is a void,” Marta Viciedo said. “A void that most certainly will be filled by another institution or another entity that has the vision to see what opportunity exists.” Viciedo is a graduate student in the urban and regional planning prog ram.
“Talks will be ongoing about that campus for the next year,” Plymale told Viciedo.
Viciedo claims Plymale cut her off before she could respond.
When FAU opened new buildings on the Treasure Coast campus in late 2008, the final headcount of students was 971. Back then, those 971 were 3 percent of FAU’s student body.
After three years and a $10 million investment to expand the campus, the final headcount of students dropped to 402.
This year administrators estimated 247 students remained on the campus, less than 1 percent of the university’s total enrollment, according to an FAQ about the budget cuts.
“I think those students will probably go with us,” Atkinson says. Her trust lies with President Mary Jane Saunders.
“Those students are going to be cared for, and our president promised that,” she said.
Whether Saunders is fulfilling her promise by suspending the campus and relocating faculty, staff and students to Harbor Branch, Jupiter and Boca remains uncertain for Atkinson.
“Well, right now, I can’t say too much about that.”
It’s June 28 and it’s the first day of construction on the Boca campus.
Fences are going up around Lot 25, the parking lot next to a road on campus called St. Lucie Avenue South. The road will reopen next summer.
The fences here at Boca resemble the barricades back at Treasure Coast, except they’re not surrounding abandoned buildings.
They surround the site of a new, seven-story dorm with lakeside dining options and a parking garage.
Campus for sale?
When the UP visited the suspended Treasure Coast campus, sources claimed that FAU planned to lease the campus to Indian River State College. We asked President Saunders to confirm but she couldn’t be reached.
A university spokesperson, however, told the UP otherwise.
“FAU is considering all options right now involving both the Treasure Coast campus, as well as the Fort Lauderdale campus,” a university spokesperson said. “At this time, there are no contracts, leases or other agreements. We are only in the conversation stages right now.”