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Taking education downtown

Nestled within the Tampa Bay Port Authority is a USF campus many students have never heard of.

Dwarfed by the office buildings that make up Tampa’s corporate world, the USF Downtown Center provides services to many area businesses and government offices while still offering classes for USF graduate students, senior citizens and people trying to improve their job prospects through continuing education.

The building houses seven classrooms, some of which have the capability to merge together, fitting up to 120 students. Each room is set up for computer-to-overhead presentations that visiting clients may customize to utilize the software used in their own facilities. There is also an on-site computer lab where each computer can be equipped with client-specific software.

Richard Byham, director of the Division of Professional and Workplace Development at USF, stresses the center is tailored to graduate and professional students, not the average USF undergraduate.

“It’s not a facility that is set up for everyone to use,” Byham said. “There are some insurance limitations we have for groups using the space, and we don’t have a large staff. It’s primarily for corporate classes, corporate meetings and academic programs.”

Janet O’Shea, coordinator of the Downtown Center, handles the concerns of corporate clients, University administrators, professors and students. To further provide for her students, the USF Bookstore will be on site this week, so graduate students at the center will be able to buy all of the books they need without commuting to the Tampa campus.

Even with the Bookstore making a house call, O’Shea is most excited about the center’s free parking. She said the facilities have 220 parking spaces made available through the Port Authority, which leases the building to USF.

“This is especially good for the folks that are working in downtown Tampa and the people who are aggravated with parking,” O’Shea said. “Parking has become a major concern on campus and in the downtown area.”

Byham agrees the center’s free parking and open lot are boons for graduate students fed up with the Tampa campus’ parking situation.

“I think it’s important we have a facility downtown, given the space crunch on (the Tampa) campus,” Byham said.

Byham also said the downtown location offers convenience to its student base through USF classes held at nights and on weekends.

One of the downsides to the center is there is no real study area for students outside of classes. O’Shea explained that because it is a professional setting, most people don’t come in to study outside of classes.

“As we’re a conference facility during the day, there’s no other way to do it,” O’Shea said. “I have seen, during exam week, people come in early, and we always let them come in and study, so it hasn’t really been a problem.”

The Downtown Center’s classrooms are available for rent to anyone who’s interested, if space is available. The smallest room costs $215 for a half day and the prices rise up to $700 for the largest room or computer lab for a full day. USF students and staff receive a discount, however.

“We roll out the red carpet for everyone,” O’Shea said. “They get special favors (here) they wouldn’t get anywhere else.”