Until recently, USF Saint Petersburg has been the definition of a “commuter school.” With no place for students to live on campus, many would come to class and then leave. That’s slowly been changing. First, a 370 bed residence hall was built a few years ago. And now, another 200 bed residential tower—along with a central gathering area for students—is in place, in the form of the new Student Center.
“Before this building, we really didn’t have a place to meet,” said USF St. Pete Student Body President Mark Lombardi-Nelson. “There wasn’t that central location for people to hang out, and this provides that, and that’s why you’ll see the energy, it’s just crazy.”
The Center is made up of two connected structures.
A two-story facility houses a dining hall named ‘The Reef,’ although Lombardi-Nelson says most students have adapted a USF “Bull pun” and are calling it ‘The Calf.’ The hall offers the school’s first full service meal plans, something parents have pushed for for a number of years. Across from the hall is an enclosed student lounge; outside the back door is a pair of basketball courts. On the second floor are meeting rooms, along with a large ballroom that can be split into three smaller rooms.
Adjoining the shorter, two-story student center is a six floor residential tower that 200 students call home.
USF St. Pete Interim Chancellor, Dr. William Hogarth, says it’s important to increase the number of resident students on campus—both for the school and the students themselves.
“If you can build a core of your campus with resident students, you bring more life to the campus, you get those people more involved in activities, in turn, they become, I think, better students because they get involved in things.”
Students live two to a room, with an attached bathroom. Floors are co-ed, with a central gathering area for each one next to the elevators. Hogarth says it’s all about giving students the full college life experience.
“Education, the other things that go with it: the companionship, the nightlife, just being away from home and growing and maturing, we think all that’s part of education, preparing you for life.”
What makes the center even more unusual is that some of the 21 million dollars it took to build it comes from a special student fee—a fee that USF Saint Petersburg student leaders pushed legislators to pass.
“It really is a student building, this is something that students had wanted on our campus for eight years at the point when we got into the positions,” says former student body president Jon Ellington. He was one of the leaders who made six trips to Tallahassee to speak to lawmakers.
“State funding had been cut, the project had been vetoed a couple times, and so if it was going to happen, it needed to be the students actually stepping up and saying, ‘This is something that we need and we’re willing to pay for it to actually have it done.’”
USF President, Dr. Judy Genshaft, says the student’s voices played a major part in getting the building built.
“We all worked together in the lobbying, but you know what makes a huge difference when you have students asking for something for themselves, it really influences the Legislature.”
And when asked about the importance of the building, Genshaft almost sounds like a student herself.
“It is fantastic; it is so exciting to see a Student Center on the USF St. Pete campus. This makes a campus come to life.”
The old Campus Activities building has turned into a Student Life Center, where student organizations and a much needed Wellness Center will be located.