Leesburg-based Beacon College is in the middle of a growth spurt, sparking plans for campus renovations and expansion for the east side of the Lake County city's downtown.
Founded by a group of parents in 1989 to provide students with learning disabilities, autism and ADHD a college education, Beacon had a steady enrollment of less than 100 students until the early 2000s.
Then, just over three years ago, the institution decided to grow and make its presence in higher education better known, college president George Hagerty told GrowthSpotter. The school's population has since reached 309 this year, and is expected to climb to 360 next year.
About 30 percent of the students are from Florida, and the other 70 percent are from 32 other states and 10 countries.
Beacon is the first higher education institution accredited to award bachelor's degrees primarily to students with learning disabilities. It is ranked among the top 10 Florida colleges or universities in 2016 by Bestcolleges.com, and now it is splitting at the seams.
About 18 months ago, the school's board created a master plan for Beacon's growth with help from Credo, a campus planning firm.
Beacon's existing residence areas serve about 270 students, and the college has plans to build more dormitories in two phases.
The first, a $4.5 million project with 74 single rooms, is expected to start in May of this year and be completed in January 2018. The second phase will come in about two years from now, and will house 75 to 80 students, allowing the college to grow its population to between 450 and 500 students, Hagerty said.
Bids are out and financing is in place through City National Bank in Miami for the Phase 1 residence hall, he said. "Our interest is to keep much of the work local."
In the meantime, Beacon College is reconstructing a building on Main Street in Leesburg it calls its academic mall, a 12,000-square-foot space that houses nearly 90 percent of the college's classroom and laboratory space and more than half the faculty offices, plus the school's library, its Robert and Jane Weiner Writing Center, and Math Lab.
The building is undergoing a $300,000 façade overhaul to blend with Leesburg's library and the college's administration building. A new elevator to the second floor is in the works to make it compliant for accessibility needs. It is expected to be completed by September.
The work was helped by a $189,375 grant from The Edward C. Fogg III and Lizbeth A. Fogg Charitable trust.