Located in downtown Leesburg, Florida, Beacon College—the nation’s first accredited four-year-degree-granting institution for students with learning disabilities—has brought a century-old train station back to life as a student center. Students can socialize or workout in the 3,400-square-foot space.
Beacon College’s enrollment grew from 185 students in 2013 to more than 220 last year to 285 this year. The institution anticipates a total of 500 students in the next few years.
“We needed additional recreation and socializing space for them,” says Beacon President George Hagerty. The old fitness center was very small, so much so that despite regular aerobics classes being offered, very few students could participate in them due to space. Also, students interested in just using the gym equipment could not easily do so when a class was in session.
So it was good timing when the city of Leesburg asked the college last year if it could use the circa-1913 train station, which was being used as storage, Hagerty adds. As a result, the college made a deal with the city to lease the building for $100 a year, with a 10-year renewal period.
The new student center, opened for this academic year, features free public Wi-Fi, a computer lab, a TV room and a game room with a pool table and air hockey. Additionally, one of the college’s life coaches works in the building.
The new facility sits along a popular biking and a recreation trail, and it has an outside rest area for cyclists and students. Community arts programs have use of space there as well.
The new weight room and fitness center triples the amount of space available in an older facility. Now 15 to 20 students can participate in popular classes such as kickboxing and Zumba.
An additional 3,800 square feet of public space will be added when an another round of renovations is completed.
Prior to a series of bad weather events in the 1980s, Leesburg was one of central Florida’s largest citrus industry towns, Hagerty says. Many downtown buildings abandoned as a result have become a part of Beacon’s campus.
“With our campus in a small southern city with that history, we’re very proud to have helped bring another old building back to its original glory,” he says.
- COMPLETED: September 2015
- COST: $300,000
- PROJECT TEAM: Burke Hogue Mills Architects (Lake Mary, Florida), historical architect; Franklin Construction Services (Leesburg, Florida), construction; Trask Construction Company (Eustis, Florida), general contracter