Sun Dome renovations to change 2011 commencement venues

While more than 2,000 USF graduates will walk across the Sun Dome’s stage later this month during the fall commencement ceremony, next year’s graduates will see a change in venue.

Commencement Coordinator Debbie Lum said the spring and summer 2011 commencement ceremonies cannot take place at USF’s usual venue because of renovation construction at the Sun Dome.

Instead, she said, the ceremonies will relocate to the St. Pete Times Forum and the Tampa Convention Center in May and to the Forum again in August.

The fall 2010 graduation will still be held in the Sun Dome as its renovation work has not yet begun, Lum said.

“We want to be sure this announcement does not confuse the 2,000 graduates that are coming next weekend for December commencement,” Lum said. “We don’t want anyone panicked because they hear about venue changes, and we don’t want them to feel like they are in a venue that’s not good enough.”

USF’s spring 2011 undergraduate commencement will take place May 5 at the St. Pete Times Forum with a ceremony for the College of Arts and Sciences at 1 p.m. and for the remaining undergraduate programs at 6 p.m., she said.

Lum said the spring 2011 graduate ceremony will be held at the Tampa Convention Center on May 6 at 6 p.m.

“The reason we could not have all of the ceremonies at the Forum on Thursday is because we already have a ceremony for the College of Medicine at the Mahaffey Theater for the medical degree on Thursday morning,” Lum said. “Obviously, we only have one president, and she cannot be at multiple places at the same time.”

Lum said the graduate ceremony was also planned for the evening because many graduate students have children and families who wish to attend the event.

She said the venues were booked for these dates based on their availability and that the limited choice of dates caused the spring exam schedule to be changed so that finals are finished before graduation on Thursday.

Lum said USF is still negotiating prices with the St. Pete Times Forum and the Tampa Convention Center.

She said USF has been looking to renovate the Sun Dome for several years, but until now, there was not enough funding for the proposed project plans.

Ray Gonzalez, assistant director for Facilities Planning and Construction, said in an e-mail to The Oracle that the USF administration made the decision to begin renovating the building in March 2011.

“The USF Sun Dome Arena and Convocation Center Renovation Project (Sun Dome Project) would extend the useful life of the Sun Dome for an additional 20 to 30 years and would include reconfiguration of the 10,000 seat bowl, adding a center hung scoreboard, adding concessions and restrooms at the Concourse Level, adding an east expansion building, modifying the southeast and southwest entries and restoration of existing exterior concrete,” Gonzalez said.

Gary Manka, Student Government adviser, said he thinks USF planned to start renovations during a time that would cause the least disruption to students.

“I’m pretty sure that decision of when to renovate the Sun Dome was made by the University so that it would also be around the sports schedule,” Manka said.

Gonzalez said USF planned the renovations to be complete in time for next basketball season, which begins in November.

“We will be working with all involved parties to keep any impact to the parking around the Sun Dome to a minimum. Efforts will be made to keep non-essential construction activities away from the building and parking lots,” Gonzalez said. “Construction staging areas off Sycamore Drive currently being used for the current athletics projects may be available for this effort.”

He said the current estimated cost of the project is $28.5 million and will be financed by the USF Finance Corporation through proceeds from a fixed rate bank loan.

“Net revenues from the operation of the arena would be used to pay off the loan,” Gonzalez said.