A groundbreaking ceremony for a 100,000 square foot dual housing and student center complex occurred from 2-3 p.m. on Wednesday, meaning USF Sarasota-Manatee will join the residential campus cohort when the facility opens by fall 2024.
Members of the Board of Trustees, President Rhea Law, former USF President Judy Genshaft and Chair of the USF Sarasota-Manatee campus Frederick Piccolo were present at the ceremony.
The new complex will initiate a spur of academic and infrastructural developments at USF Sarasota-Manatee, according to Regional Chancellor Karen Hollbrook. She said it will consist of a ballroom double the size of the Selby Auditorium, a residential hall with a 200-person capacity, lounge and studying areas, dining facilities and other more compact rooms for social gatherings akin to the multi-level approach of the Marshall Student Center at the Tampa Campus.
USF has planned to build residential halls at the Sarasota-Manatee campus for over 10 years, according to Director of Student Engagement Kimberly Monus.
“It’s been something we’ve been asking about and wanting for a really long time, and something students have been working really hard for in the eight years I’ve been here. Then, we just made the decision as an institution that it was best to combine it into a single option so that we can have our students benefit from both opportunities,” she said.
“I think it provides us with a really great opportunity to expand resources on our campus and expand our reach. And you know, since so many community members and students are here, it’s exciting, right?”
Senior marketing major Paola-Marie Mannino said she was excited about the new complex and to see its goals of increasing student involvement and engagement across the campus come to fruition.
“I’ve been on this campus for four years and talks of building residential halls has been the topic of discussion within the Student Engagement Committee the entire time I’ve been here,” said Mannino. “I thought it was important to be here and support the new building. It’s definitely a big step.”
As a commuter campus, USF Sarasota-Manatee has identified its primary vision to expand the college experience past solely having students drive back and forth each day, according to senior professional and technical writing major Karla Hernandez.
“The majority don’t stick around campus,” said Hernandez. “But having a residence hall here would definitely have people coming out more to events and engaging more in the community.”
As demonstrated at the Tampa Campus, an on-campus student center will cater to commuters and campus residents alike, according to Monus.
“I think we are going to continue to serve a large commuter population, and having a space for all students, commuter or residential students, to have as their own and claim as their space is going to be really instrumental in continuing campus life here,” Monus said.
Hollbrook said the Sarasota-Manatee campus plans to improve its education facilities in tandem with its residence and student life initiatives with the implementation of a STEM/Nursing facility positioned in between the new student complex and Sarasota Bay.
“There’s more in the reservoir on this campus … we have already selected the architectural firm and the contracting firms, and I’m pleased to say that they are from a local community in Tampa Bay,” Hollbrook said.
“We are working with our report to add another academic program in aerospace engineering, more health science programs, business programs, behavioral science programs. We couldn’t hire a certain [level] of faculty because we didn’t have labs. So, it’s very exciting for us to finally be able to get the research faculty that we need to build this great research university, University of South Florida.”
Law said she was proud to see the realization of a long-standing vision.
“I was here in 2006 along with Judy, the president then at the time when I was chair, and we came here to celebrate one building,” said Law. “The grand opening was important to me back then, but this is groundbreaking, it’s huge.”
The college experience is not the only benefit of installing on-campus student housing facilities, according to Law.
“It actually raises [students’] academic performance. And when we talk about the University of South Florida, we’re talking about meeting metrics that allow us to be excellent, that allows our students to be excellent. And this is another piece of the puzzle,” she said.
Culminating the students’ research potential and offering a more holistic education will bolster their capacity for success when faced with today’s impossibly demanding job market, according to Piccolo.
“This addition to the Sarasota-Manatee campus will create greater local access to an affordable student experience that will expand our recruitment footprint and allow us to fuel the talent pipeline for companies and organizations that are experiencing unprecedented growth in this country,” he said.
“The next generation of thinkers, leaders and doers will be shaped right here on this campus, in this community.”
As officials lined up with hard hats and faux-golden spades to commemorate the new building, Law acknowledged the sense of collegiate camaraderie made apparent through the expansion process.
“I think the most important thing as I stand here, and I look out at all of you is to see how this has really helped bring the entire team of universities together. The consolidations of all of our campuses just makes us better. It makes us stronger. It makes us more effective and makes us more impactful,” she said.