A four decade transformation from Gainesville’s Old Train Depot to the Santa Fe College’s Blount Hall became official Friday morning during a ribbon cutting ceremony on the corner NW 6th Street and West University Avenue.
SF’s newest facility will be home for the business and information technology programs along with providing business incubation space for SF’s Center for Innovation and Economic Development. The building, geographically positioned to provide college access to Gainesville’s underserved communities, will start classes this fall.
“Here’s our expectation, and it’s something we do day in and day out at Santa Fe College: Every student, every individual that walks through our doors will leave transformed—every single one, through the power of education,” said Santa Fe College President Paul Broadie II.
The building, named after late businessman Charlie L. Blount, who served on the SF Foundation board of directors and died in 2013, contributed financially to the college. His wife, Patricia Blount, reflected on what her husband said when they first started building the SF classrooms at NW 6th Street.
“We need to bring the children up,” she said. “And it’s not just the children, it’s the parents of the children. It’s you and me and it’s the whole community that will be brought up from this beautiful transformational building.”
The new building project started during the term of Jackson Sasser, who served as SF’s fourth president from 2002 through February 2020. Sasser was not on the list of scheduled speakers, but he stepped outside from a side door when Broadie recognized him early in the ceremony.
Sasser thanked the many people involved, including local legislators, SF staff, and the board of trustees. He pointed out the building’s design and landscaping and said it has the most windows of any SF structure.
“There is a scripture, I think in all religions, that says something like this, unto the least of these, and you finish that,” Sasser said. “As we were looking at this facility, I’ve always had this exalted notion that those of us that have been blessed, and privileged, we’ll find our way. This is the East Gainesville campus, and it’s the nicest facility we have. Why wouldn’t you build the best for the underserved?”
State Rep. Chuck Clemons, who serves as Santa Fe’s vice president of advancement, noted at the various partnerships that led to the building’s construction.
“This is a 40-year overnight success,” Clemons said. “And it started with somebody with a dream.”
Clemons credited former SF chief development officer Harvey Sharron and Ralph Wilson Cellon, who has been an SF Foundation board member since 1965, the year before the college opened.
“Ladies and gentlemen, the sun is coming up in East Gainesville today,” Clemons said. “This morning, the wind was blistering and you were cold, but what happens when the sun comes up? You change, you get warmer, the whole world feels differently. This building is going to make the whole world feel differently.”
According to SF’s website, the City of Gainesville initially deeded the SF College Endowment Corporation the vacant Old Train Depot on NW 6th Street in 1988 to establish an educational center in the downtown area. In 1990, Santa Fe opened the Blount Center and offered 50 associate degree programs.
An additional Charles L. Blount General Classroom Building opened in 2006 and renovations were made in 2017. Groundbreaking for the new building took place in October 2019. Following demolition of the old structure during the summer of 2020, construction began on the 87,366-square-foot Blount Hall.