State fails to authorize bonds for Reitz Union, Newell Hall renovations

FILE PHOTO - A plaque with the face of J. Wayne Reitz is seen in the lobby of the Reitz Union in Gainesville.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer
Published: Tuesday, April 30, 2013 at 6:57 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, April 30, 2013 at 6:57 p.m.

A legislative proposal to leverage student activity fees to help pay to renovate the J. Wayne Reitz Union and turn Newell Hall into a student study center is dead.


FILE PHOTO - A plaque with the face of J. Wayne Reitz is seen in the lobby of the Reitz Union in Gainesville.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer

UF officials and Student Government had asked the Legislature for permission to bond the university's Capital Improvement Trust Fund. They expected that would raise a total of $33 million for both improvements.

The Florida House of Representatives had agreed to the request, but the Senate and Gov. Rick Scott opposed it. The Legislature approved a budget Monday that doesn't include the authorization.

“It's unfortunate. Obviously, we're disappointed,” said Collin Thompson, press secretary for Student Government.

The Reitz Union was built in 1967 and has seen a number of additions and renovations over the years. The new project would have included a 100,000-square-foot expansion, with a new ballroom, lounges and dance studios. A 75,000-square-foot expansion to the existing union would follow.

Newell Hall, the third-oldest building on campus, sits at the center of campus and has been vacant for years because of maintenance issues. It has no central air-conditioning, the masonry is in disrepair, and it has mechanical and electrical problems. The plan was to repurpose the building as a study hall or “library without books.”

The total amount needed for the Reitz Union renovation is $75 million. UF already has $55 million available from other sources, leaving it $20 million short.

In order to bridge that gap, officials sought to leverage money already in the Capital Improvement Trust Fund. Students pay $6.76 per credit hour to the fund, which can be bonded every four years to pay for student-oriented buildings on campus.

Last year, the UF Board of Trustees agreed to raise the fee by $2 per credit hour expressly to raise money for the Reitz Union renovations. The fund now has about $11 million in it.

The goal was to bond that money to raise a total of $33 million, enough to complete the Reitz Union project as well as the Newell renovations.

Losing the authorization to bond the money leaves the Reitz project short, and no money for the Newell Hall repairs.

UF Student Body President T.J. Villamil had made getting the additional funds a cornerstone of his term. Three weeks ago, he sent out a letter to UF alumni and supporters pleading for them to reach out to their state lawmakers to approve the bonding authority.

The extra money could have been used to increase office space for Student Government, consolidated office space for student services, and increased the amount of rehearsal studio space.

Thompson said 900 student organizations are crammed into five offices, student services are scattered across campus and dancers rehearse on concrete patios at night.

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