The journey may soon end for a Dania Beach campus that helped establish Florida Atlantic University as a leader in ocean research and education. FAU has yet to announce any official plans to close its 13-year-old SeaTech Institute for Ocean and Systems Engineering at State Road A1A and Dania Beach Boulevard. But all classes are being moved to the main Boca Raton campus.
The university has only committed to funding campus operations through Dec. 31, said SeaTech professor Richard Granata, adding it's likely research projects will move to other campuses. FAU has already closed its Treasure Coast campus and plans to shut down its downtown Fort Lauderdale tower next summer as part of an effort to deal with dwindling state dollars. The Legislature cut the university's budget by more than $24 million this year.
President Mary Jane Saunders said SeaTech can only operate if it becomes self supporting through research grants and other dollars. She said the Department of Ocean and Mechanical Engineering are studying it, and "I don't know that they've come to a firm decision."
But department chairman Javad Hashemi told students in a June 28 e-mail that activities at the campus are being suspended and operations are moving to Boca Raton, the department's home before SeaTech opened in 1999. This past year, 63 undergraduate ocean engineering students spent their senior year at SeaTech working on projects. About 50 graduate students have also worked there during the past year.
"SeaTech is a wonderful facility and has served our department tremendously well over the last decade," he wrote. "Although suspension of activities at SeaTech due to budget issues is sad and unexpected, it is important to note that the main reasons why our ocean engineering program is successful and great are due to its faculty, students, staff and the support of our administration."
FAU opened the $13 million complex to great fanfare at the site of a little-used, rundown shopping and entertainment complex called SeaFair.
The campus has been instrumental in researching corrosion in bridges and ways to harness energy through the ocean. It became a major researcher for the U.S. Navy, which operates a Naval Warfare Center next door and operates machinery inside SeaTech. All research is expected to continue, officials said.
The Navy is "currently evaluating the impact of FAU's move from the center at Dania Beach and is in the process of determining the best options of current and any future activities," said Kevin Sykes, a spokesman for the Naval Surface Warfare Center.
Dania Beach hasn't had any formal discussions about what may happen to the site if FAU leaves, but has hired a contractor for its waterfront revitalization plan, City Commissioner Walter Duke said. He said the city may develop an alternative plan if SeaTech leaves. But his preference is that SeaTech stays.
The city is trying to establish itself as a center for marine research. Nova Southeastern University plans to open a $40 million National Coral Reef Institute this fall.