After seven years, a peek at new student center

After nearly a decade of waiting, USF finally got a look at its new student center.

“I think the new building will create the premier environment in the Southeast,” Phyllis P. Marshall Center Director Joe Synovec said. “It will be (students’) home away from home; a place where students will want to be.”

Construction of the $64 million facility has reached its third stage of development, Synovec said. It is scheduled to open in May 2008.

Architectural firms GouldEvans and Sasaki headed the conception and architectural design of the new center. Though GouldEvans and Sasaki have worked together on similar projects in the past, GouldEvans Vice President and Project Director John Curran said the current project was unique in a variety of ways.

“The proposed materials to USF include both a metal skin system and glass system that are unique,” Curran said. “We are also employing an energy efficient with shade system using glass. We are using traditional materials in innovative ways.

“As a team, openly our goal is that it is an innovative building with a sustainable concept worked into it, which will make it more sustainable than typical.”

Aside from the architectural achievements of the structure itself, many of the amenities the student center will provide will also be unique. The four-story center will have a full food court with familiar vendors (such as Quizno’s and Taco Bell) and a sports grill with a Chili’s restaurant where students will be able to watch bands perform and play pool, among other things, Synovec said.

The building’s construction has been progressing according to plan, and the partnership between the two firms has been a smooth effort, Synovec said.

“The two companies are cooperating so well you wouldn’t even know they were separate,” he said.

Campus interaction played a major role in influencing the design of the new Marshall Center, according to Curran.

“A lot of examining how students and people move through the campus and the building’s location affected the design,” Curran said. “We watched students move around campus, which inspired the design of the circulation of movement in the series of pavilions located around the atrium.”

Students may have a difficult time recognizing most of the construction being done. Significant construction will be noticeable by early December after all the plumbing and electrical work has been completed on the ground level, Synovec said.

“There will be only one to 10 people working at a time,” Synovec said. “Not until June 2007, when the steel structures are erected, will we be engaged in full production.”

The Student Life Tower is the portion receiving the most buzz between Marshall Center Director Joe Synovec and the architects involved. The tower will be a central hub for all student life – including the Office of Student Engagement & Involvement, the office of Student Government, student organization office space and meeting rooms, as well as a graduate and professional student council site.

Another unique feature of the new Marshall Center will be the presence of what the Sasaki Firm and Synovec are calling a Serenity Room, where students will have the peace and quiet to meditate, pray or just relax.

The Serenity Room was put into place in a facility at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington – another one of Sasaki’s architectural projects – and received positive feedback.

“The room will not only meet the religious needs of USF’s students, but hopefully meet the needs of all students,” Synovec said.

Feelings about the new center are positive across the board.

“If the building achieves a place like a home away from home, becomes the most fun and the heart of the campus – we know we have done well,” Curran said.

Vice President of Student Affairs Jennifer Meningall, along with other University administrators, spoke often with architects about the community atmosphere she wanted the new center to create.

“A student center is really the living room of a campus,” Meningall said. “It’s a place where people can feel at home. They can gather and meet with others they know and don’t know. You get to take a break. You get to relax. You get to be excited about intellectual exchange.”

Creating an environment that fosters intellectual exchange and community will significantly impact the quality of student life, Meningall said.

“It’s going to really make a major difference in campus life and student engagement,” she said.

Synovec believes the new center will also help enrollment.

“It’s definitely a recruiting tool,” he said. ” It will be a signature building for the University to use to continue its growth.”