T.J. Villamil: Union expansion at risk

Published: Friday, April 19, 2013 at 3:23 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, April 19, 2013 at 3:23 p.m.

As the current student body president at the University of Florida, I am calling on your much needed support. The current legislative session is three weeks from ending and I am extremely worried about the future of two of our most prominent buildings on campus -- Newell Hall and the J. Wayne Reitz Union.

The Capital Improvement Trust Fund (CITF) Fee was specifically created in 1988 to be bonded every four years for non-academic student life buildings on campus. The next fiscal year is one of these years when CITF funds that have been collected from students should be appropriated for student approved projects at the donor universities. The Florida Senate, however, has not authorized bonding of these student fees for capital projects as of now.

While I understand the importance of carefully considering any policy that may increase the state debt, it is important to note that the CITF fees are collected from students for this purpose. The debt is then serviced from the fees themselves and does not require general revenue or other sales tax dollars to service. The two projects in question are the expansion and renovation of the Reitz Union and the renovation of the third oldest building on campus, Newell Hall, to open its use as a student study center –- a “library without books.”

If these fees are not bonded out, UF students would lose a combined $23 million for both of these projects. Most alarming, these cuts would cripple our union expansion by cutting $10 million from the total budget of the $75 million project. Furthermore, the renovation and re-purpose of Newell Hall, currently vacant in the heart of campus, would not see the light of day.

The J. Wayne Reitz Union was created in 1967 for a student population of 20,000 people; now, the union gets that same foot traffic every day. Students have been fighting for the union renovation project for eight years and now we need your help to cross the finish line.

We need you, the Gator Nation, to voice your support in the Florida Senate to help get these projects through the legislature with the necessary bonding authorization. Please call and email your senator and senate leadership to show support for such iconic buildings and the need to bond out student CITF fees to make these dreams become a reality.

On behalf of all 50,000 current students and any future students at the University of Florida, we thank you for your support and will always remember the legacy you will leave.

If you have any questions, comments, or concerns please email me at president@sg.ufl.edu. For more information on the projects visit www.sg.ufl.edu/CITF. To contact your senator and senate leadership today, please go towww.flsenate.gov/Senators/Find.

Thank you again, and as always, go Gators!

T.J. Villamil is student body president of the University of Florida.

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