Coming to the Upper Keys in 2021: a real college campus

This is an artist’s rendition of what the finished Upper Keys campus in Key Largo will look like.
This is an artist’s rendition of what the finished Upper Keys campus in Key Largo will look like. College of the Florida Keys

In a historic step for the Florida Keys’ only college, a $16 million federal grant is on its way to help build a campus in Key Largo by 2021.

The College of the Florida Keys — which recently petitioned the Legislature to allow it to drop the word “community” from its name — will build on a 2.12-acre lot it bought last year for $2.5 million.

The college’s main campus is on Stock Island, just outside Key West.

Currently, the college rents space at Coral Shores High School in Tavernier from the Monroe County School District.

“The Upper Keys Center” will allow the college to expand workforce training and apprenticeship programs in the Upper Keys. Enrollment is expected to double to 300 students a year when the campus opens.

Demolition has begun in Key Largo at the old Shell World site to make way for an Upper Keys college campus. Don K.T. Francis

“The building will also provide the College with an alternate headquarters location should another major storm strike the region,” said spokeswoman Amber Ernst-Leonard.

The spot is known as the old Shell World location at mile marker 106 that greeted visitors to the Keys for years. Demolition has already started and continued this week.

“That was a second location we purchased 15 years ago,” said Danielle Hill of Shell World, which isn’t going anywhere. “The original Shell World was established in 1972 and in our current location since 1984.”

The $16 million, awarded July 2, is coming from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration.

The college needs to raise $4 million on its own for the required grant match.

“This allocation of $16 million represents a significant step in the direction to assure that access to higher education and post-secondary training is within reasonable reach of all residents in the Keys,” said college president Jonathan Gueverra.

Gwen Filosa covers Key West and the Lower Florida Keys for FLKeysNews.com and the Miami Herald and lives in Key West. She was part of the staff at the New Orleans Times-Picayune that in 2005 won two Pulitzer Prizes for coverage of Hurricane Katrina. She graduated from Indiana University.