UF building new president's house, renovating old with private donations
Published: Friday, September 20, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, September 19, 2013 at 8:15 p.m.
Build it and he, or she, will come.
That is what University of Florida officials and supporters are hoping will be the case with the construction of a new president's home.
The $5 million project, which will include renovations to the existing president's home, is scheduled to begin during the first three months of 2014 and take 14 months to complete, said Curtis Reynolds, vice president for business affairs.
The project will be built entirely with private donations — including a $3.5 million gift from UF alumni John and Mary Lou Dasburg of Key Biscayne. In appreciation of their donation, officials said, the new home will be named the Dasburg President's House.
"Most major universities provide on-campus homes for their presidents," John Dasburg, CEO of ASTAR USA LLC, said in a news release. "In many respects it is the living room of a great university, and we should have a home of quality that the president and university can be proud of."
The existing president's house has not been lived in since 2006, when President Bernie Machen bought a private home off-campus. Since then, the president's house has been used for alumni offices and public events.
University officials began discussing construction of a new president's mansion in 2012, when Machen announced his retirement, which he has since delayed by a year to December 2014.
Built in 1953, the current president's house has been home to six university presidents and entertained dignitaries including Robert Frost, Helen Keller and Presidents John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter.
Although the house is 7,500 square feet, its three-bedroom living area is only about 1,500 square feet, Reynolds said. The rest of the mansion is common area.
A subcommittee of the board of trustees charged with searching for a new president in 2012 said the home was not suitable for a new university president. The mansion has decades-old plumbing and electrical work, officials said.
"The house is outdated, lacking the technology and energy-efficient systems now standard in new construction on campus," Reynolds said.
It is also wedged between busy University and Southwest Second avenues, west of the O'Connell Center and Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
"The current president's home was a limiting factor in the past, it's so challenging from a residential perspective," said Tom Mitchell, vice president for development and alumni affairs at UF. "On game day, you have people parking in your yard. There is no privacy whatsoever."
Building a new president's house will give the university an opportunity to renovate the older home to make it easier to entertain much larger groups of alumni than at present, he said. The older president's home, once renovated, will serve as a conference center that can accommodate gatherings of as many as 150 people at a time, with breakout rooms and advanced technology, Mitchell said.
"This gives us an opportunity to further strengthen a landmark area of our campus," he said.
Mitchell said the university has been fortunate to get the support of the governor and Legislature, the Board of Governors, the board of trustees, faculty, staff, friends and alumni in helping UF push to become a top 10 university.
"As Florida's flagship university, it is important that we have a president's home that can engage alumni and friends in the mission and vision of the university," David Brown, chairman of the UF board of trustees, said in a news release.
The new president's house will be 5,000 to 6,000 square feet, two stories, wired with smart technology and energy-efficient features. It will be located on Village Drive, just north of the former site of the Baby Gator Child Development and Research Center and west of the UF law school.
The new president's house will have more livable space with a smaller, more intimate area for entertaining as many as 20 guests and dignitaries at a time, and be wired with state-of-the-art technology, use energy-efficient technology and be built to last 50-plus years, Reynolds said.
"This house will see many university presidents to come," Reynolds said. "We're building a new house for the president to live in and have intimate gatherings."