Trustees OK $10 million going toward renovating O'Dome


This image is one of several conceptual drawings showing planned renovations to the Stephen C. O'Connell Center presented at a University of Florida Board of Trustees meeting on Nov. 29. (Image provided by UF)

Published: Friday, December 7, 2012 at 4:23 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, December 7, 2012 at 4:23 p.m.

The University of Florida is contributing $10 million toward the renovation of the O'Connell Center, but the project won't be done until four times that amount is raised.

UF trustees approved the contribution Friday to a project that is planned to include a new entrance, club space and all-new seating. Trustee Steven Scott said it might take two to three years to collect donations to pay the remaining $40 million cost of the project.

While the O'Connell Center has undergone a number of improvements since it was built in 1980, Scott said the facility has not undergone a major renovation in that time.

"Certainly it's time to upgrade it," he said.

The board of trustees also unanimously approved a plan to turn a historic building on campus into what has been called a library without books.

Trustees previously raised student fees to help pay for the Reitz Union's renovation and expansion. A new estimate determined the fees would generate $13 million more than needed, money that will be used to turn more than 100-year-old Newell Hall into a study center.

"This gives us an opportunity to address one of the major priorities of the students on campus," trustee Marshall Criser II said.

Trustees also approved changes to regulations that require publications to be distributed on campus in university-owned modular units. The changes will allow some of the Independent Florida Alligator's distinctive orange news racks to remain.

The student newspaper sued the university over the regulations, a lawsuit that the paper's attorney said would be dropped after the changes were approved.

Three days after pledging to not raise tuition, UF President Bernie Machen used the board meeting to make the case that students already pay bargain-basement rates.

Machen and other state university presidents vowed Tuesday that they wouldn't seek tuition hikes next year if they received an equivalent amount of new funding. Machen told trustees that UF already charges undergraduates less than all but five of 51 flagship universities.

"My concern is that we're being lumped in with public research universities whose costs have become very high, while on the other hand I think we remain a truly exceptional value," he said.

He applauded Gov. Rick Scott's call for state colleges to develop $10,000 degrees, but said there should be a tuition spectrum in the state with UF doctorate degrees on the other end.

"It is, in fact, not a one-size-fits-all model," Machen said.

Machen presented a number of figures showing that UF's tuition ranks below other major institutions, including six other state universities. UF undergraduates paid $6,143 this academic year as compared to an average public university tuition of $8,655.

"I'm not complaining, I'm just explaining," Machen said.

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

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