Don't close the CLO

Published: Saturday, April 1, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, March 31, 2006 at 10:24 p.m.
UF is losing the PR battle in its fight to evict residents of this student-run cooperative. So why not try to save it?
The Collegiate Living Organization has its origins in the 1940s, when Joseph R. Fulk, then a UF professor of school administration, donated just under an acre of land for a communal style residence for low income students.
Generations of students who might otherwise not have had the opportunity to earn a UF degree were able to live more cheaply by sharing the chores and daily upkeep at the CLO. Living and working together in economic adversity, they may even have come away from the experience better prepared for the challenges of life after college.
Today, the CLO consists of three squat concrete block buildings painted in drab earth tones. The complex has obviously seen better days, but it still houses about 65 student residents. A sign outside advertises apartments for a low monthly rent of $315. But the University of Florida wants to evict its residents and end this decades-long experiment in cooperative student living.
We think that's a mistake. Student-run residences have a rich tradition in academia, and the CLO is the last one in Gainesville. CLO residents have enlisted the support of alums to fight the eviction, contending that UF just wants them gone because the land the buildings sit on has become too valuable to waste on cut-rate apartments.
For their part, UF officials say the complex is riddled with code violations - evidence that residents haven't lived up to their end of the maintenance bargain - which would cost $750,000 to fix. But UF's argument is somewhat undermined by the fact that an inspection by the State Fire Marshall's office has documented many fewer violations.
Frankly, in the publicity war between UF and the CLO, UF has been losing. We don't attribute sinister motives to the eviction attempts, but it can't be good for the university's image that former CLO residents - Gators all - have been energized to fight Tigert Hall's takeover attempt. And some of those alums are influential people, like Steve Hull, one time press secretary to former Gov. Bob Graham.
"Doctors, lawyers and university professors all over the nation have come together and unified to save the CLO," Hull told the Sun. "We're very concerned that the University of Florida is trying to make a land grab of the CLO, trying to destroy an organization that was founded by a very giving professor back in the '40s who wanted to help students."
Is this eviction battle really worth the black eye it's giving the university? We don't think so. More than 250 CLO alums have already pledged $100,000 to help repair the complex. Surely more funding can be raised to help bring the buildings up to code.
UF might consider its effort to date an "attention getter." It has certainly gotten the attention of CLO residents and former residents alike. Now it's time for adversaries to become allies and work together on a plan to save a venerable organization that can legitimately claim to be a part of UF's rich history.
Save the CLO. After all, it and its current and former residents are part and parcel of the Gator Nation.

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