UF trustees home in on old Baby Gator site for new president's house

The University of Florida President's Mansion, in Gainesville, Monday Dec. 3, 2012.

Brad McClenny/Staff photographer
Published: Thursday, December 6, 2012 at 5:18 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, December 6, 2012 at 5:18 p.m.

The University of Florida's next president likely will live in a new home built on the old site of the Baby Gator child care center.

UF trustees heard a report Thursday on a recommendation that the seven-acre site, west of the law school on Village Drive, be used for a new president's house. The board is expected to vote next year on the project.

Officials say the current UF-owned president's house, between University and Southwest Second avenues, lacks privacy, is antiquated and needs major work.

"It's more cost-effective to build a new one," said Curtis Reynolds, UF's vice president for business affairs.

UF President Bernie Machen, who plans to retire next year, left the existing president's house six years ago to move into a private residence. He's the first UF president not to live in the house since it was built in 1953.

The house is now used for university events. The plan would be to continue using it for those events but build the new house with the idea that 60 percent of the home would be dedicated to hosting smaller presidential functions, Reynolds said.

The new president's house is expected to encompass 8,000 to 10,000 square feet and cost less than $2 million, he said. The project would be privately funded, he said, with a timeline and exact details to be determined before a board vote.

The new president, who will be selected as early as January, would live in a private residence while the new house is built. Trustee Steve Scott questioned whether 10,000 square feet would be big enough.

"If you have to hire a president that has four or five children, it could be kind of tight," he said.

The size and cost reflect a report on presidential residences at universities similar to UF that found an average size of 10,000 square feet and cost of $1.6 million.

A presidential search subcommittee had considered sites near Lake Alice and off Southwest 23rd Terrace before the old Baby Gator site was recommended.

Last year, Baby Gator moved into a former Kindercare child care center near Lake Alice, and its old facility was torn down. The site is west of the Levin College of Law and south of an old exercise course for disabled individuals that is now a conservation area.

Reynolds said the current president's house is a state-registered historical site, so it would be difficult to tear down. Trustees suggested converting bedrooms there into conference rooms, and the search group discussed building a conference facility on the same property.

Trustee Juliet Roulhac said it would be fiscally responsible to continue using the house.

"I think it would be a shame to underutilize the existing facility," she said.

Contact Nathan Crabbe at 338-3176 or nathan.crabbe@gvillesun.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/nathancrabbe.

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