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STEM project
SPC plans Outdoor Learning Cloud
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SEMINOLE – Plans are moving forward for an Outdoor Learning Cloud and STEM hands-on learning center on property owned by St. Petersburg College near Bay Pines VA Healthcare System, said Dr. John Chapin, the college’s dean who is based out of the Seminole campus.

Chapin spoke at an Oct. 23 Rotary Club of Seminole meeting at Lake Seminole Country Club.

Known as “Hurricane Hole,” the property is located between the Bay Pines medical facility and Madeira Beach Middle School. It will be accessible to the public, Chapin said.

“It’s not just for the college,” he said. “It’s a community resource.”

The Outdoor Learning Cloud will be the first portion of the project to be completed. By attaching sensors to various organisms throughout the property, visitors will be able to instantly learn about the historical and scientific details of “Hurricane Hole” through their mobile smart device. Underwater robots will also be used to continuously collect and stream data.

“You’ll be able to walk around the property, point your smart device at that tree over there and the tree will talk to you,” Chapin said.

Some of the information made available will include meteorological, historical, biological, chemical and ecological data.

“The beauty of this is it’s continuously changing and growing,” Chapin said. “If a hurricane comes through and destroys parts of the area, the cloud will change and reflect that.”

Based on Pittsburgh’s Schenley Park, near Carnegie Mellon University, this research project will be completed over time by students and affect those studying in a variety of disciplines – biology, chemistry, technology.

“This truly is a STEM project,” Chapin said.

Chapin hopes that work on this portion of the project, which will cost about $100,000 to $150,000 and will be funded by federal grants, will begin within the next couple of months, starting with the planned nature trail and parking lot.

“Within a year, I hope the path is built and I’m hoping to put other stuff in there,” he said.

The STEM hands-on learning center is the more ambitious portion of the plans for “Hurricane Hole.”

Geared towards technology, marine and environmental science, the 10,000-square-foot center will be designed to serve students in middle through graduate school. It will include a classroom, space for small groups to meet, individual research labs, a conference center, a student research center and a faculty development center.

In the lobby, marine specimens will be on display.

In total, the center will cost around $4 million, Chapin said. About half of the funds are on hand, he added, and he hopes the state will help fund the rest.

Plans for the center are still being discussed. An architect, who hasn’t been officially hired to design the center, has provided conceptual sketches of what the center could look like. The two possibilities are a single-building design or a series of clustered buildings each with a different use. Chapin said he prefers the clustered-building design and it likely will be chosen.

“A year from now, I would love to see some construction going on,” he said.

He also stresses that the project is a true partnership. SPC is working with several other entities, including Admiral Farragut Academy, Florida Fish and Wildlife, the City of Seminole, the University of South Florida marine science department, Eckerd College, the Science Center of Pinellas County and the Pinellas County School District.
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