University Center Awaits Renovations

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Plans to completely redesign the University Center to accommodate student organizations, SLE and the bookstore are in the works and will be finalized in December.  Photo by Melissa Stihl/Foghorn
Plans to completely redesign the University Center to accommodate student organizations, SLE and the bookstore are in the works and will be finalized in December. Photo by Melissa Stihl/Foghorn

The UC Renovation Project is in the “staging process,” according to Christina Sanchez, assistant vice president for University Life.  The goal is to modernize the aged building and then make it the center of the university, as its name and location indicate, by putting student groups and services in renovated areas within the building.

Sanchez said the UC Project has been put on hold for the past 9-12 months due to financial uncertainty, but USF has recently approved collaboration with Sasaki Associates, an architectural and design company to develop a design plan for the UC’s fourth and fifth floors.  Sasaki Associates was hired in 2007 to assist in planning and constructing the UC.

Sanchez said the project is a “staged process” and the cost is unknown. “It is a process of exploration,” she said, adding that an estimated cost will have to be approved by the Board of Trustees and more definite answers will come “within the next two months.”

Within those months, USF Project Planner JJ Thorp, assistant vice president of Facilities Management Mike London and Sasaki architects will present their UC plan to the President’s Leadership Team, an 18-member team headed by University President Rev. Stephen A. Privett, S.J. The team will give a decision this December on priorities and a timetable.

Vice president of University Life Margaret Higgins said the new Center of Science and Innovation is the university’s first priority, but she and Thorp see room for multiple projects to take place simultaneously.

The UC plan is intertwined with the Phelan Renovation Project, as offices of some student groups and the USF Bookstore, currently at the bottom of Phelan Hall, will relocate to the UC.

According to Greg Wolcott, director of Student Leadership and Engagement, the goal of the Phelan Project when it was first conceptualized 5-6 years ago was classroom efficiency.  Plans have since shifted to focus on residence hall space.

Photo by Melissa Stihl/Foghorn
Photo by Melissa Stihl/Foghorn

Living space has been an issue at USF for years. In the Sept. 9, 2004 issue, the Foghorn’s Street Talk asked students about campus space.  Some expressed frustration over crowded dorms and campus remodeling.  Freshman Dhruv Patel described his Hayes-Healey dorm room experience in detail.

“I’m living half out of my suitcase,” said Patel in 2004.  “There are screws sticking out of the floor where the TV stand used to be.  I’m still waiting for a room to live in for the rest of the year.”

In the Sept. 23 issue of this year, the Foghorn reported that the Office of Residence Life (ORL) was reconsidering housing policies including but not limited to the requirement of second-year students to live on campus.  ORL was also reportedly aiming to modify residence halls by redesigning bathrooms and creating more student lounge space.

Clearing out the bottom of Phelan Hall will free space for approximately 80 more beds, allow a front desk to take the place of the bookstore, and provide an opportunity to fix the building’s leaky plumbing system.

Photo by Melissa Stihl/Foghorn
Photo by Melissa Stihl/Foghorn

The plan calls for College Players, ASUSF Voices, USFtv, Foghorn and Residence Hall Association to join the bookstore in moving to the UC.  The lone survivor would be University Ministry, which would expand into the next door Foghorn Office.  According to Higgins, the newsroom will likely become an interfaith chapel.

“No decisions have been made yet,” said Higgins.  On Monday, Oct. 26, Higgins joined Associate Vice President of University Life Mary Wardell, JJ Thorp and architects from Sasaki Associates on a tour of offices that could be relocated.  Wolcott said student groups can expect to begin packing by this coming spring semester and to move shortly afterwards.  The goal of the tour was to find out how much space each group would need in their new home.

In a 2008 intensive study of the USF campus, with the involvement of the ASUSF Senate, Sasaki consultants concluded there was not enough student lounge space on campus.

The finding fueled the plan to recreate the fourth and fifth floors of the UC with administrative offices on one end, student organizations on the other, shared conference rooms in the middle and student lounge spaces in locations that would give them the most natural sunlight possible.

Student grievances have centered around shared space, visibility and after-hours access.

On Tuesday, Oct. 27, London introduced parts of the UC plan to the ASUSF Senate and received feedback and reactions from both senators and students in attendance.  Editor in Chief of the San Francisco Foghorn Laura Plantholt and Executive Producer of USFtv Alex Platt both expressed concern during the meeting pertaining to the amount of space their organizations would have in their new homes.

In response, London explained that modern corporations are shifting towards shared work spaces such as community conference rooms.

“Shared space is a reality in design and has been part of the University’s projects” said London, adding that his office is in his department’s conference room.

JJ Thorp’s primary job is to make suggestions for what the UC should look like.  He envisions the future UC as a shared space, meaning a sign-out system in which faculty and students would have to reserve work spaces when needed. But with this plan comes the issue of late hour access.  Student groups rarely work on a rigid 9-5 schedule, with some groups working over nights and well into the morning.  According to Wolcott, USF is open to late hours for student groups, though Higgins said 24/7 access is not a guaranteed part of the plan, and such a system would have to be worked out with the Public Safety Department.

ASUSF President Bobby Marquez, who along with Wolcott is a student advocate throughout the process, says 24/7 access is vital to student work schedules.

“I am absolutely an advocate for 24/7 student access,” Marquez said, adding that he is confident it will happen.  Marquez said his two biggest concerns are more bed space in Phelan and following through in his role of being an advocate of student concerns throughout the process.

USF’s undergraduate enrollment made significant increases in 2001, 2003 and later in 2006, prompting the Foghorn staff to say in its September 9, 2004 staff editorial, “It’s very clear that there is a huge space issue at this school and there’s a dire need for expansion in order to keep up with the growing number of faculty and students.”  The staff was not in favor of the increase at the time, saying “On an everyday basis, it is becoming more and more clear that the there are too many students at this school,” and going on to say that USF is putting too much of an emphasis on the future and neglecting the present, as Sam Sharkey said.

The future of 2004 is today’s student body, and the future is looking much like it did five years ago. At this point, there seems to be a strong commitment to incorporate student input in the plans.  Higgins and Thorp both said they are willing to listen to student concerns through e-mail.  Wolcott said he would like to hear from students who have ideas about the projects, and Marquez encourages students to talk to him or any ASUSF Senator about what they would like the future USF campus to look like.

In Thorp’s ideal plan, the UC would be an open space of community lounges and meeting spots, full length windows would replace walls, and individual offices would be an idea of the past, replaced by small work stations that encourage collaboration among and between students and faculty.

The fourth and fifth floors would look very similar, and Sanchez insists they would be half student organizations, half administrative space, and shared meeting rooms.

Thorp’s idea for the third floor include adding to Harney Plaza and extending it behind the current ITS computer lab, around the UC, and back towards Harney Plaza near the Public Safety Office.  Thorp discussed the possibility of removing the ITS computer lab in order to create more student lounge space, while disbursing the lab’s computers throughout other parts of campus.

The second floor would remain largely unchanged because the level is almost entirely a cafeteria, but Thorp envisions a merger of the USF Bookstore, Outtahere, and Crossroads into what he called a “Barnes and Noble atmosphere” on the bottom level of the UC.

The bookstore would take the place of the Student Leadership and Engagement Office, which will move to either the 4th or 5th floor of the UC.  Next would come a complete redesign of how the bottom floor looks, as the wall that creates the hallway between the ASUSF Senate Office and Crossroads would be torn out, eliminating the separation of the Bookstore, Outtahere and Crossroads.

As it stands, the fifth floor of the UC where renovations would begin is merely a 13,000 square foot clean canvas from corner to corner, outlined by windows on all sides.  The level is clear of doors and desks, yet full of plans and potential to transform this former maze of faculty offices into the epicenter of student life.

“It is just a matter of painting that canvas,” said Marquez.

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