The New College bayfront is the place Michael Long describes when he wants to make his friends jealous of where he goes to school.
“From a student perspective, the bayfront is quite possibly the best space at New College,” the student body president says. “It’s where we go to have a picnic; it’s where we come to watch the sunset; it’s the home of our morning yoga classes.”
But, until recently, the New College seawall was in failure mode.
The balustrade had fallen into the bay and the esplanade on the upward side of the wall was mostly missing. The bayside sidewalk shelf was under water because of the rising sea level, and a dock built after the seawall was at risk of catastrophic collapse.
A $2 million three-part project funded by the Florida Public Education Capital Outlay has the college’s shoreline — listed on the National Register of Historic Places — spiffed up with a restored seawall modeled after the original seawall built for Charles Ringling, an inter-tidal lagoon and the newly constructed Joan Marciak Newmark dock, named in honor of the mother of New College alumna Dr. Christine Hamilton-Hall.
Construction for the project started in January, and with the exception of lighting, was completed in May — just in time for graduation.
“The original seawall was built in the 1920s,” said Julie Morris, assistant vice president for academic affairs at New College. “We have historic photographs that show it was about 8 feet wide and pink. It used a construction technique called a gravity wall — massive and heavy to hold it in place.”
The seawall had to be dug out of the ground, hauled away and replaced with a pre-cast concrete panel hydraulically worked into the sediment, only at a higher elevation than the old wall because of the higher sea level, which had risen about seven inches.
“We recreated something similar to the historic balustrade and used the existing historic pink marble from College Hall to make a mold for the new wall,” Morris said.
Because seawalls separate people from the water, a stairway leading down to the bay bottom was incorporated.
“The bay is very shallow here, and at low tide, you can walk down and wade around,” Morris said.
On the northern half of the project, a new inter-tidal lagoon has been created as a way to improve the bay habitat and act as a shallow wading area for students to investigate the bay. On the southern half, the goal was to recreate the historic Ringling bayfront as it was originally built, but with modern materials evoking the historic setting.
“The recent seawall restoration and the newly installed dock, outdoor classroom and intertidal lagoon enhance the place we all already love so much,” Long says. “I hope the greater Sarasota community has the opportunity to enjoy it as much as we do as students.”
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