First Sarasota-Manatee residence hall enters new construction stage, chancellor says

building of sarasota-manatee dorms, bare concrete
The Sarasota-Manatee campus is the smallest of the three USF campuses, but new construction of a residence hall and a STEM/Nursing facility will launch a campus expansion, according to Regional Chancellor of the Sarasota-Manatee campus Karen Holbrook. ORACLE PHOTO/ARI RENICK

The first residence hall at the USF Sarasota-Manatee campus has entered a new stage of construction and is expected to open in fall 2024, according to Regional Chancellor of the Sarasota-Manatee campus, Karen Holbrook.  

Expected to house 200 students, the building will serve as both a student center and residence hall. The student center will be located on the first two floors of the building. The first floor will feature a ballroom, dining facilities, lounges, meeting spaces, a bookstore and offices for USF World, according to Holbrook. The second floor will be dedicated for Student Government offices, she said. 

The third and fourth floor will be reserved for housing, with the third being exclusively for freshmen and sophomores and the fourth for upperclassmen. 

The project is undergoing a new phase of construction following the March groundbreaking ceremony, as 600 precast concrete panels are being placed to make up the walls of the six-story building, according to Holbrook.      

“You can look out the window and see that they are putting on the sixth floor right now,” she said. “It’s sort of like Legos, and each floor gets set up… We will actually get started on the sixth floor today.”   

Drywall and the inside paneling of the walls are expected to go up in December. The project is expected to be completed by May 2024, meaning the dorms will be open to students starting fall 2024, she said. 

Sarasota-Manatee also has an online live camera which tracks updates and shows the construction’s progress.

Holbrook said the campus has been working with USF administration for approximately two to three years and had to conduct two studies with a third party before gaining the Board of Governors’ approval for the project in September of 2022.

The $42 million project will be completely paid for with student fees which have been accumulated for the financing of the building, money directly from the university and bonds which will be paid back through the revenue made from the housing rates, Holbrook said. 

One main motivation behind the project is attracting and recruiting more students to the Sarasota-Manatee campus, Holbrook said. Since there are no dorms or residence halls on the campus, Holbrook said they are limited to a local recruiting area.

“We would have a lot of students that would stop by and say ‘Oh gosh, I’d really love to come to USF Sarasota-Manatee. Where’s your residence hall?’ she said. “We’d say, ‘We don’t have any,’ and they’d leave. So we really were missing out on a lot of students.”

Sarasota-Manatee is the smallest USF campus, with ten buildings, 32 acres and 157,771 total square feet, according to the USF Fact Book. Comparably, the Tampa campus has 253 buildings, over 1,500 acres and over 10,000,000 square feet. 

The Sarasota-Manatee campus is also undergoing expansions in other areas, with the design and financing for a new STEM/Nursing facility in the works. Despite losing out on a $20 million appropriation from the state in this year’s legislative budget, Holbrook said both of these new facilities will still help the campus grow.

“We’ve been here 17 years without a residence hall, and it’s really time to grow. So we’re pretty excited about that,” Holbrook said.   

Holbrook said another benefit from the new residence hall will be being able to give students the typical college experience. 

“It really makes a difference in the college experience. And, we’re close enough to Tampa that we will have a bus that can take students up to games and things like that,” she said. “And I think it makes a huge difference…I think having a roommate, meeting friends living on campus, I just think it makes a huge difference.”

As students start living on campus next fall, Holbrook said she also expects more changes will come to cater to these students. This includes more student health services and offering more recreational spaces for on-campus residents, according to Holbrook.                  

Once the residence hall opens, Holbrook said the goal is to fill it to capacity, mirroring the current situation on the Tampa campus.    

“We are going to start very early recruiting students to live on campus and I think it will make a big difference. Even students who live in the area have said they want to live on campus… [and] I still think we’re gonna get new numbers of students. I think Tampa is very anxious also to see that we fill our numbers and will help us so I think we’re very hopeful,” Holbrook said.