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Law school considers move to Florida

By DIANNA SMITH,
Naples News
December 28, 2004

A law school could make its home in the town of Ave Maria, where more than 20,000 people are expected to live by 2016.

The Ave Maria Law School in Ann Arbor, Mich., was created by Domino's Pizza founder Tom Monaghan, who also founded Ave Maria College in Ypsilanti, Mich. Monaghan plans to close the Ypsilanti school in 2007, which is when Ave Maria University is expected to be ready for students.

The university will be included in the town of Ave Maria, which will encompass an estimated 5,000 acres in eastern Collier County.

The Ave Maria move to Florida prompted officials at the Ann Arbor law school to discuss following suit. Some law school faculty members already have visited Collier County for a tour of the area, said Bernard Dobranski, president and dean of Ave Maria College.

Moving is a consideration, but a decision has not been made, he stressed, and one likely will not be made until the school receives full accreditation from the American Bar Association.

"The issue of moving a law school from one location to another is considered a major change, which requires their approval," he said.

An estimated 300 students attend the law school, which currently has provisional accreditation status from the association. Provisional accreditation status allows the students to take the bar exam anywhere in the United States.

One hundred percent of the Ave Maria Law School students who took the exam this year passed. The law school had the highest pass rate among the six Michigan law schools, including the University of Michigan, Dobranski said.

The earliest the school could move to Florida would be in 2008, he said, but that could easily change. The school's current focus is on receiving accreditation from the association.

Mike Reagen, president of the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce, recently met with law school faculty to discuss Collier County and its attractions.

Reagen said the Ave Maria project will attract people from around the United States. The town is expected to reach build-out in 2016.

"It's going to be a spark for massive development beyond the university and the town," he said. "I believe there will be another 60,000 homes in that part of the county in the next decade."

The university and town, created by Monaghan and Barron Collier Cos., will be located on what are now acres of old farm fields off of Oil Well Road. It's about 10 miles south of Immokalee and is expected to spark development in the small farming village as well.