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Barnetts Donate $3 Million for Construction of New Polk State College Campus in Northeast Polk County

May 13, 2024 News

Longtime supporters of education in Polk County, the family of the late Publix heiress Carol Jenkins Barnett are donating $3 million to Polk State College’s new Haines City-Davenport Campus in Northeast Polk County. 

At the event announcing the donation, Carol Barnett’s husband, Barney- who attended with their sons Wesley and Nick- said: “The real purpose of us being here and the reason we’re here is because of Carol, who is a very generous person and loved education. We’re just carrying this forward for her.” 

Barney Barnett Donation to Polk State College for new Northeast campus

Daughter of George Jenkins- the founder of Publix Super Markets– Carol Jenkins Barnett donated millions of dollars through the family’s philanthropic support of education, hunger and homelessness, among other things. 

Polk State’s presence in Northeast Polk is critical to its mission of providing access to higher education, according to President Angela Garcia Falconetti.  

“This approximately $51 million project will allow for the construction of a 75,000-square-foot state-of-the-art facility that will predominately serve health sciences programs and establish Central Florida’s first public higher education interdisciplinary simulation hospital,” she said. “The campus will also serve students in hospitality and tourism management, supply chain and logistics, and the Associate in Arts degree program.” 

Falconetti thanked the Barnetts for their support. “This is a gift of a lifetime. Part of the impetus behind pursuing the development of the Haines City-Davenport Campus is because the majority of our health sciences programs are located (at the Airside Center West in Lakeland) and have no room for growth.” 

Polk State College began planning for the new campus in 2006. In 2009, it purchased a 7.8-acre site on U.S. 27 that is adjacent to AdventHealth Heart of Florida. It just completed the planning and design phase of the campus. 

Funding For the Polk State College Northeast Campus

In 2022 and 2023, the state allocated $23.8 million for the planning, design and start of construction. The college still needs about $25 million to complete the project. Pending that funding, the campus is set to open in 2025. 
The Barnett’s donation will be allocated over three years ending in 2026. Wesley Barnett’s wife, Ashley Bell Barnett, also serves on the college’s district board of trustees.  

Polk State College Northeast Campus mock-up

“I am pleased to support this new campus which will provide the first public higher education interdisciplinary simulation hospital in Central Florida and expand high-quality education and workforce training in health sciences that are pivotal to our area’s increasing healthcare demands,” Barney Barnett wrote in a letter of support to Falconetti. 

Individuals interested in bringing this dream to fruition and donating to the development of the Polk State Haines City-Davenport Campus may visit

Growth in Polk

“Polk County is the fifth fastest-growing metro area in the U.S. and is projected to grow by another 22% by 2030, with an increasing 55 and older population,” Falconetti said. “Demand for healthcare workers in Polk County will outstrip the estimated supply of qualified workers by nearly 10,000 in 2024.”  

Such growth means jobs will be increasingly available for students who graduate with degrees in healthcare profession, she said. Current job projections through 2030 in Polk County are: 

  • 33% growth for occupational therapy assistants. 
  • 28% for physical therapist assistants. 
  • 17% for respiratory therapists. 
  • 15% for diagnostic medical sonographers.  

Presently, Polk County serves almost 900 students in its Cardiovascular Technology, Diagnostic Medical Sonography, Emergency Medical Services, Medical Coding Specialist, Occupational Therapy Assistant, Physical Therapist Assistant, Radiography, Respiratory Care and Nursing programs.  

Wesley Barnett said the family is “proud to contribute to the Polk State Haines City-Davenport Campus, which will not only increase the talent pipeline for health services but will also see that students receive expert training to care for residents in our region. We love Polk State College because it offers access and affordability to students so that they are able to earn in-demand skills for both the workplace of today and tomorrow.” 

Simulation Hospital at Northeast Campus

The future simulation hospital will mirror a regular hospital as closely as possible, using relevant equipment, technology and training scenarios often found in healthcare settings, Falconetti said. “For example, it can function as a simulated emergency room or for scenarios like mass casualty incident training.”  
The interdisciplinary simulation hospital “will allow students from across the college’s eight Health Sciences programs, as well as its Nursing program, to train independently and together as part of a simulated healthcare team,” she said.  

Students in other programs housed there, such as Hospitality & Tourism Management, Teacher Education, and Supply Chain and Logistics, also may find opportunities to learn about health and safety. They would work with the healthcare professionals to simulate emergencies they may encounter in workplaces such as theme parks, entertainment spaces, classrooms and warehouses. 

Such training would serve the students and Polk County. 

“With approximately 70% of Polk State students remaining in Polk County after graduation, investments in our colleges are investments in the economic development and quality of life for our community,” Falconetti said.

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