ST. LEO — When Animal Planet's third season of Tanked airs next spring, one location might look familiar. It's the rolling hills of east Pasco and Saint Leo University. But the plot centers not on the landscape but on the 2,100 gallon saltwater aquarium that has been built in a new residence hall known for now as Building No. 5.
The circumstances surrounding how the private Catholic university scored a state-of-the-art aquarium and a spot on the reality show featuring the antics of the family business Acrylic Tank Manufacturers have been kept secret. So has the price of the tank, which will feature lion fish in homage to the school mascot, the Lion.
"We want to allow the producers to hype the show on their terms," said Ken Posner, associate vice president for student services. He served as the point person for the negotiations, which began about a year and a half ago, just before the university broke ground on two new residence halls. As part of the agreement with the show's producers, the university administration promised to maintain strict confidentiality about financial and production details.
But the 157 students in Building No. 5 have been enjoying the huge aquarium covering the south wall of their lobby.
"When the new residence hall opened up at the beginning of the semester, students flocked to see the tank because they had heard about the installation occurring over summer," said Anne "Katie" Gwinn, the Student Government Union president. "They were amazed at the design and look of the tank, but they were also really excited that the Saint Leo tank is going to be aired on television. It's a wonderful addition to the new community space."
The show's main characters are Wayde King and Brett Raymer, chief executive officers of Acrylic Tanked Manufacturers of Las Vegas, which has installed 990 fish tanks around the world. The two brothers-in law created Tanked in 2009 and have hosted the popular reality series into three seasons.
"We're just two fish guys who build aquariums," Raymer said. "Saint Leo was our first on-air installation at a university."
Posner stunned his skeptical students when he secured the commitment with the Tanked team.
"All we knew we wanted were multiple tiers and a waterfall to fit into the radius design of the lobby," Posner said. "The purpose was to provide relaxation and of course to spotlight the lion fish in honor of our school mascot."
Last summer King and Raymer accompanied their director, two cameramen, a producer, associate producer, executive producer, and a production assistant along with two plumbers, a truck driver and maintenance man to the site.
"We had to take a forklift to get it off the truck," Raymer said. "And then we brought the tank around the building and had to squeeze it through. It was difficult getting one tank on top of the other to create a double layer and the overspill waterfall."
It has taken the past six weeks for the tank to stabilize to the perfect pH balance and temperature (77 degrees Fahrenheit). When 25 spotted and tentacled lion fish arrive next week, students from the biology department will maintain the system and keep the fish healthy. Posner said they also will balance the salinity and bacteria for a healthy environment.
"Fish are fed every other day," Posner said. "The lion fish only eat live ghost or cherry shrimp. The rest of the species in the tank prefer live tissue as well, but will eat a seafood medley of clams, mussels, squid, or oysters."
An equipment room behind the tank contains a source of electricity, an ozone and UV filtration system, a 280-gallon holding vat for future aquarium inhabitants and a separate air conditioning system to maintain a constant temperature. A backup generator also is in place in the event of power outages.
"The feedback from students is excellent," Posner said. "This lobby is packed after 3 p.m."
Leah Hollingsworth is a senior communications major from Seattle who feels like she won the lottery when she was assigned an apartment in Building No. 5.
"I came to Saint Leo University for the weather and because of its friendly atmosphere," she said. "The fish tank definitely reminds me of home. Students living in other buildings have expressed their jealousy to me, and I've seen them show their guests the tank. It gets a lot of attention from parents and other visitors."
All of the lobby walls are rounded with a ceiling height over 20 feet. Canned and cloud fixture lighting enhance the modern lounging space with six huge television/gaming screens, modular couches, and interior/exterior tables and chairs. The tank is surrounded by Withlacoochee sandstone bricks and is protected by timed retractable fabric window treatments.
There are 44 other Tanked installations, including the homes of actors Tracy Morgan and Neil Patrick Harris, a Dallas mega church, restaurants, the home of a sick boy with Tanked on his wish list, and in a pinball parlor.
Saint Leo University has surrounded the lobby with an exercise room, gaming arcade and relaxation room inspired by similar ones at Google headquarters and the Empire State Building. Four individual recliners are enclosed within oval-shaped pods that provide 25 minutes of piped-in music and body massage.
"That little egg area is where Brett found a new home," King said. "What a perfect place to unwind."
For more details of the production, you'll need to watch the Saint Leo episode next spring when the new season begins on Animal Planet. "All I can tell you is that it was an unbelievable crowd that watched it happen," King said. "The builders were there with the students. It was all one big happy family having a lot of fun."