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Naples Daily News (Florida)
It has been a little more than two years since Florida Gulf Coast University put together a plan to build a fitness center on campus without any financial help from the state.
But not a sliver of dirt has been turned to start the construction of the $18 million Student Academic Health and Life Fitness Center. That's because FGCU doesn't have a permit and an agreement it needs from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
When FGCU made the permit request, it sparked a review of the entire campus by the Army Corps. The review led to a list of things the Army Corps wanted FGCU to address.
The list included the possibility of an archeological site on campus and 43 activities that took place on the campus, including mowing and construction that infringed on conservation areas, FGCU officials said.
The officials said they have worked to resolve the issues and are hopeful it will soon get a permit from the Army Corps that encompasses the fitness center, a road the school wants to build on campus and the 43 activities.
"We are very close to the end of the permitting process with the Corps," said Tom Mayo, director of Facilities Planning at FGCU. "We have worked with them for the last two years, and our impression is they are very happy with where we've come to. And we are happy, too, with where we have come to. We just want to close out the process."
But it has been a frustrating wait for FGCU trustee Robbie Roepstorff. She was hopeful that any hindrances related to getting the permit were going to be resolved last year.
"That would have been the best Christmas present ever," she said.
Instead, Roepstorff's still waiting.
"I am just becoming more impatient because our university needs this," she said.
FGCU and the Army Corps officials met in December to discuss the permit.
"They confirmed that they had everything they needed, and the (Army Corps) section chief told us she believes we are in the final phases," said Steve Magiera, FGCU's vice president for Administrative Services and Finance. "I am not sure what that means because ... they didn't want to give me an estimated date when the permit would be ready."
The Army Corps did not respond to a request for comment.
In September, U.S. Rep. Francis Rooney wrote a letter to the Army Corps, supporting FGCU's effort to build the fitness center. Col. Jason Kirk, an Army Corps district commander, responded to Rooney's letter in October.
Kirk's letter included the list of things the Army Corps wanted to get resolved. The letter mentioned the conservation areas the school infringed upon, the proposed road's impact on 4.6 acres of uplands and wetlands and the fit-ness center's impact on 9.8acres of uplands.
"We feel like we have worked with them, and we have their blessing so to speak on what we are doing," Mayo said. "We are mitigating the areas that we need to."
Mayo said FGCU resolved the Corps' issue with the road by reducing it from a four-lane road to a two-lane road with a small median.
"We were intending to impact a very small portion of one of the wetlands," he said. "We decided not to ... and now we are impacting a very small sliver of the buffer of the wetland area.
"Now we still have got uplands impact, but (Army Corps officials) are really more concerned about wetlands impact, and that we have minimized."
FGCU said the possible archeological site that the Corps was concerned about turned out not to be much of an issue. FGCU contacted the state archaeological society about the site.
"They said there is nothing that we are going to do that's going to upset that site, and it's not really an active site," Magiera said.
The FGCU board approved of the university's funding plan to build the fitness center in December 2015. The school tried to get money from the state to build the fitness center, but its efforts were futile.
Here is how the school plans to fund the project:
Use $8.2 million from the Capital Improvement Trust Fund. The fund includes fees that are collected from FGCU students.
Get a $5 million loan from the FGCU Financing Corporation. The university's plan is to pay the loan back through future distributions that are made to the trust fund.
Use a $3 million gift from the FGCU Foundation and a gift of $1.8 million from two donors.
Roepstorff praised the university's administration for finding a way to fund the fitness center. Now she's just hoping the center can finally get built.
"We need this," she said. "We need it for the mental health for our students. There have been more and more studies that just show students adjust better and they are better academic wise when they have a fitness center that they can go and unwind in a healthy way."
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