State of the Union

The Phyllis P. Marshall Center was granted permission from the Campus Development Committee on Monday to use the land under and around the Special Events Center for a new student union. According to the project outline, the SEC would be torn down and the Marshall Center would be entirely renovated. In its place would be a new $55 million student union.

The CDC meeting was the first step in the process of getting the project approved and started. MC Director Guy Conway must go through two more channels in order to get a green light on the project.

“The next step is that we go to the Academic and Campus Environment Workgroup, which is a subgroup of the Board of Trustees, we go to them next and then after that we go to the Board of Trustees for final approval,” Conway said.

Even though the SEC is a relatively new building, Conway justifies the demolition because he said that tearing down the mal-designed space would cost only $2 million more than renovating the existing structure and would also allow architects to work from square one. The entire project will cost $55 million, with $5 million of that already in the bank thanks to a $20 flat fee paid every semester by all USF students during the past two years. Another $4 million will come from the Capital Improvement Trust Fund and the rest will be borrowed.

The proposed project is 290,000 square feet, 128,000 square feet larger than the existing student life space, which includes the 62,460 square-foot bookstore. Included in the plan is a replacement of the 2,200-seat SEC in the form of a 1,200-seat ballroom, a 600-seat activities theater and a 400-seat multipurpose room. According to the proposal, this division is needed because the SEC is not being utilized as was planned and is constantly being used for 200- to 600-person events, leaving three quarters of the space empty.

“We did a feasibility study — we had an architectural firm come in and meet with us and meet with student groups to look at what our needs were and assign approximate square footages to all of those needs,” Conway said. “We put together a concept within our means based on square footage needs indicated by various groups on campus, but within the parameters we could afford.”

As for more everyday student use, the project is incorporating a number of food and retail venues. Included in the project outline is a 100 percent expansion of lounge space, including atriums and interior as well as exterior courtyards. As for dining, the project calls for a food court, a restaurant similar to Top of the Palms, an Internet coffee shop and a sports grill that may serve beer and wine.

“I prefer to use the term sports grill because it will be mainly an eating establishment but will probably serve beer and wine,” Conway said. “This building used to have a pub in it. It was called the Empty Keg and it closed maybe 10 years ago because the interest dwindled.”

The square footage is split into 12 different areas of need, and food services tops the list at a total of 32,100 square feet, while lounge space constitutes 12,000 square feet. A large ballroom, conference rooms and student organization space make up nearly 75,000 square feet while other services make up the rest of the proposed expansion.

Demolition of the SEC, barring approval from the BOT, is planned for January of 2006, while construction will begin this time next year. The project will be implemented in two phases, the first being the destruction of the SEC and construction of a new structure, all the while allowing the Marshall Center to stay open. The second phase, which would not be completed until 2008, is to evacuate the Marshall Center while it is gutted from floor to ceiling and completely renovated, which includes new water systems, electrical systems and elevators.

In Comparison

Universities around the nation spend extravagant amounts on their student unions and the state of Florida is no exception. The University of Florida, with a 270,000 square- foot union, has spent nearly $80 million, while UCF houses a 185,000 square foot union and spent $28 million over the past seven years.

“Student unions are traditionally and continue to be the primary gathering space on campuses where the students can interact in a multitude of ways,” Interim Union Director Mike Mironack of UF said. “It used to be that we called ourselves the living room of the campus, the meaning of a living room is kind of faded as generations go by, but that kind of encompasses the type of thing that we do. We are a gathering space.”

With its 290,000 square-foot union, USF would have one of the largest unions in the state. A guideline used when building a union states that for every one student, 10 square feet should be provided at a given union. With the proposed square footage, the square feet per student would come to 8.5, yet again one of the highest in Florida. Only Florida International University at University Park, FIU at Biscayne and the University of West Florida exceed 8.5, but enrollment at these universities is much smaller than USF.

“I definitely think facilities help in recruiting a quality student,” UCF Union Director Suzi Halpin said. “It’s a place where they can see themselves having a meal, meeting friends, going to meetings and really participating in the community.”

Mironack agrees that the student union is a vital university structure and service and believes that USF is telling the community that they are going to be a top-rate university with top-rate facilities.

“It signals that they are committed to student involvement,” Mironack said. “I think it is a signal that USF is serious about providing a place where student organizations, student activities and programming can take place.”