By RON HAYES
Palms West Monthly
Posted April 4, 2017
LOXAHATCHEE GROVES — From her corner office on the second floor, Dr. Maria Vallejo can smile down at the flashing electric sign greeting drivers along Southern Boulevard.
Welcome … The Wait Is Over! … Welcome … The Wait Is Over! …
Few have waited longer than Vallejo, the brand new provost of Palm Beach State College’s brand new campus in Loxahatchee Groves.
“I feel fabulous,” she says. “I can remember in 2004, when we began the feasibility study. I also have a newspaper clipping from 2008 of my presentation to a Wellington Chamber of Commerce luncheon asking for support.”
What would be the best location for a new campus, she wanted to know back then. Who would attend? How old might they be? What classes should be offered?
“We wanted to get an idea who our public would be,” Vallejo recalls.
Thirteen years and $30 million later, the Dennis P. Gallon Campus of Palm Beach State College has arrived.
To be sure, at this point the Gallon campus is more campus than classroom. Situated on 75 acres at Southern Boulevard and B Road, there is plenty of room for growth, but only a single building standing.
Oh, but what a beautiful building it is.
On Feb. 28, the college held a grand opening to welcome dignitaries, faculty and about 700 students who had started class the day before. What they found was an airy, three-story building with scarcely a corner that’s not brightened by floor-to-ceiling windows and state-of-the-art equipment.
Just inside, visitors are met by a life-size portrait of former PBSC President Gallon, who retired in 2015 after 18 years, during which he led the college to expand education and job training to the county’s west-central communities.
A few steps more and you’re at the foot of the “Social Stairs,” which rise through all three floors, pausing at four large landings with comfortable couches and chairs for study or socializing.
“This is a green building,” boasts James Storms, an architect and the college’s assistant manager of facilities planning and construction. “We’ve followed the International Green Construction Code.”
Walk into a room and the LED lights go on. Leave and the lights turn off. No, they’re not motion-sensitive. These lights respond to body heat and CO2. They know you’re exhaling.
The lights nearest the windows grow brighter or dimmer in relation to the sunlight outside, and the air conditioning reacts to CO2 sensors as well.
“Our goal is to make this a ‘net-zero’ campus,” Storms says, “meaning the energy we produce will equal what we use.”
Here, every chair and desk has a USB port to accommodate laptops and smartphones.
The building is equipped with 40 WiFi access points to ensure everyone can get online.
Instead of books, students consult the “virtual library,” a moving laptop on a stand connecting them to a human librarian at one of PBSC’s other campuses who takes their request, finds the book and directs them to a computer link.
Clearly these are not the classrooms students entered in 1933, when Palm Beach Junior College became the first public junior college in the state. Those classes met at Palm Beach High School, now part of the Dreyfoos School of the Arts in West Palm Beach.
In 1948, the college moved to Morrison Field, a former Army Air Force base that’s now Palm Beach International Airport, and three years later classes were held in the Lake Park Town Hall.
Finally, in 1955, the state donated $1 million and the county commission found 114 acres in Lake Worth, which remain the college’s main campus.
A Belle Glade branch opened in 1977, followed by Palm Beach Gardens in 1982, Boca Raton in 1983 and now Loxahatchee Groves.
One educator who’s especially excited to have a state college campus in Loxahatchee Groves is Meghan Thornton, a counselor at Wellington Community High School.
According to Thornton, of Wellington High’s 2,500 students, between 50 and 100 are in the dual enrollment program at any time, traveling to Palm Beach State campuses throughout the county to take college-level classes. Now they have a campus next door.
“Not only is the campus closer to our school and to most of their homes, it’s smaller and easier for high school students to navigate,” Thornton says. “Once students have a chance to visit the campus, I believe we’ll have an increase in dual-enrollment classes.”
Kwenzi and Kwasi Stinson live near Okeechobee Boulevard and Jog Road, but a closer campus isn’t what moved the 19-year-old twin brothers to transfer from the Lake Worth campus.
“It’s more secluded,” says Kwasi Stinson, who’s taking Introduction to Government. “You have more time to think. In Lake Worth I was more active. I was involved in the Black Student Union. Here, I just want to focus on my studies.”
His brother nods. “It’s a different atmosphere from Lake Worth. I’m taking General Psychology and I wanted the new experience here. This has fewer people and more quiet.”
If Dr. Vallejo has her way, it won’t stay that way for long.
At present, the Gallon campus offers only general education classes for students working toward an Associate of Arts degree. Come September, the Health Information and Medical Coding classes arrive, which are expected to attract more students.
“We’re focusing on health and technology because it’s a growing field with the highest-paying jobs,” Vallejo notes. “There are so many hospitals in this area, and lots of doctors’ offices where our students could find internships and part-time jobs.”
And then, of course, there’s the rest of those 75 acres. When Dr. Vallejo looks out at them, she sees 11 buildings that aren’t there yet.
“Our model was the Palm Beach Gardens campus, which serves between 9,000-10,000 students a year. This is a growing area, so we need this. But it depends on community demand and the government giving us the funds to build it.”
But she can remember 2004, when a Dennis P. Gallon Campus depended on community demand and government money, too.
And just look at it today.