Yesterday (17 August 2023), New College issued a press release. In part:
COLLEGE ANNOUNCES HOTEL PARTNERSHIPS FOR NEW AND RETURNING STUDENTS THIS FALL
SARASOTA, Fla. New College of Florida is excited to announce …
Out of an abundance of caution, and for the health and safety of the NCF community, Interim President Corcoran has made the decision to shutter all of the Pei dorms. This decision was made after the recent engineering report indicated air quality concerns.
… NCF will occupy the entirety of the Home2Suites location just north of campus and a large block of rooms in the adjacent Hilton Garden Inn. Upperclassmen will be housed in the Hyatt Regency in vibrant downtown Sarasota.
When the first entering class arrived at New College in the fall of 1964, the Pei dorms were still under construction, well behind the original schedule. The owner of the Landmark Hotel on Lido Key, a New College trustee, offered to accommodate the class at his hotel, and the school obtained a Navy-surplus bus to transport the students between the hotel and campus.
The dorms were still under construction at the end of the first term, when the hotel had committed to winter tourists, and after considering alternatives, the boys were housed in the (unheated) Barn (now a coffee shop), and the girls in the “temporary” building that would house the natural sciences division. The same source that had supplied the surplus bus also came up with surplus cots and other furnishings for the temporary quarters.
By late March 1965, students began moving into the new Pei dorms, as rooms became finished and available. The Pei dorms would be sufficient to house all resident students until the entering class of 1969, when the West (Palmer) Campus dorms were opened. (See Capt. Ralph Styles’ book “Skating on Thin Ice” for a more detailed account of this story, and much more.)
Both in 1964 and 2023, students were housed in local hotels because the Pei dorms were not habitable. When New College first opened, the Pei dorms were not yet habitable; as the college that we knew comes to a close, they are no longer habitable.
The Pei dormitories housed New College students for 58 years and a few months. They and their Palm Court were both iconic and problematic from the beginning, beautiful to look at, distinctive to live in, and expensive—too expensive—to maintain. Decades of deferred maintenance can no longer be ignored.
I doubt that the Pei dorms will ever be occupied again, but rather will be allowed to continue to deteriorate, without intervention, until there is no choice but to demolish them “out of an abundance of caution”.
In the meantime, their walls bear witness to 59 years of our loves and traumas, tribulations and celebrations. We will still have our stories and our memories.