Marshall Center upgrade still on hold

The Phyllis P. Marshall Center became a hot topic of conversation two years ago when a committee began looking into a much-needed $48 million expansion.

Two years later, the Marshall Center is no closer to having more space.

According to Marshall Center Director Guy Conway, an expansion is long overdue.

“This building was originally built in 1960 when there were 2,000 students,” Conway said. “Now we have 27,000 on this campus. For the number of students we have, this building is woefully inadequate.”

When the committee met, it recommended a few funding avenues, including raising Activity and Service Fees, seeking money from the Capital Improvement Trust Fund or seeking private donations. Conway said none of these possibilities panned out.

“Initially, (SG) recommended that it ought to be from A&S fees, but at the time the current president didn’t want to raise the student fees that much,” Conway said. “One of the options was CITF. Part of what was initially recommended was an increase for next fall, but (the legislature) amended that out.”

CITF will no longer be handled by the Board of Regents when it disbands in July. Each university president will be able to allocate CITF based on the recommendations of a committee he or she appoints.

But for now, in the midst of residence hall expansion throughout the north end of campus, the university center will remain as it is.

“My guess is we won’t really progress farther on the project until we have the money figured out,” Conway said. “We don’t want to go and design a building that’s more expensive than what the students would be willing to spend.”

He also said that relocating and building an entirely new student union is probably not an option.

“The Marshall Center is not in the exact center of campus,” Conway said. “When they looked at other locations (for the Marshall Center), they realized any time you move in any direction, you get father away from something else.”

Originally, the committee’s proposal had called for more than 100,000 square feet of new space. Plans have mostly focused on expanding between it and the Special Events Center, and to the west over the loading dock.

According to Harold Nixon, Vice President for Student Affairs, it is important for the image of USF to have a suitably large student union. Attention must be paid to not only the residence halls, but the student union and the North Palm Avenue entrance into campus.

“It all fits together, and it helps us improve our image,” Nixon said. “We’re going to push real hard (to fund an expansion), because it’s very important. This is the student center, and it’s important.”

Nixon suggested that money could eventually come from CITF, and the university would have to look into the expansion again once the State University System moves from a BOR-run system to a local Board of Trustees system.

The money might still come directly from the legislature, although the future of that is entirely unclear, according university lobbyist Kathy Betancourt.

The Marshall Center is small when compared to other student unions around Florida. The University of Florida’s Reiz Union is 237,600 square feet and Oglesby Union at Florida State University is 197,000 square feet. The Marshall Center is only about 155,000 square feet.
When it opened in 1960 as one of the first five buildings on campus, the Marshall Center (then the University Center) housed the first women’s residence hall, cafeteria, post office with student mailboxes, faculty offices with a typing station, bookstore, television room, game room and information desk.

The most recent expansion came in 1990 with the addition of the Special Events Center, as well as a major renovation. Conway said that until the future of an expansion is determined, there will be no major renovation projects at the Marshall Center.

“We don’t want to start tearing down walls and doing major remodeling,” Conway said. “We don’t want to not do anything, so we’ll do some small things, like minor remodeling in the ballroom. And we’ll move Greek Life to the lower level. In that space on the second floor will be more student organizations. And we’ll be doing some new furnishing things in the meeting rooms.”

Contact Jon Beake