DOWNTOWN — The construction commotion that has blocked, squeezed and slowed traffic on N Boulevard at the University of Tampa this summer may be good for your health — if not your last nerve.
The project is aimed at creating more physicians assistants, physical therapists and athletic trainers. At that location, the university is adding a second floor to the Martinez Sports Center as part of an expansion project that will add or renovate 57,000 square feet for classrooms, labs, faculty offices and athletic space, according to UT plans.
The expansion is in response to the university's tremendous growth, which has boomed by nearly 55 percent since 2002, going from 4,261 students to a projected 6,600 students this fall. Much of the construction project will help the College of Natural Health and Sciences, where 35 percent of entering freshmen are declaring their majors, said the college's dean, Jim Gore.
"Health-related fields are always good jobs to have and maybe health-related jobs are seen as recession proof," he said.
The expansion is being split into two phases.
The first phase, which primarily affects the departments of health sciences and human performance, started in June and adds 23,000 square feet to the sports center off N Boulevard. The additional space will make room for 19 offices, eight classrooms and six labs. The project will continue until early 2012.
Drivers can expect lane closures on various segments of N Boulevard — between Kennedy Boulevard and Cass Street — through June 2012, UT spokesman Eric Cardenas said.
The second phase, which will start some time this fall, will attach a two-story building to the southwest corner of the sports center. Scheduled to be completed in the fall of 2012, the addition will house headquarters for UT sports teams, athletic training and treatment programs, athletic department offices, study rooms and more locker-room, laundry and storage space. The college's ROTC program will move into the addition allowing the current ROTC building north of the Sykes College of Business to be renovated for another use.
New programs and added space will allow the university to offer degrees in allied health, a precursor for physicians assistants and physical therapists. New sports-science equipment, such as medical treadmill tests, will help UT offer degrees in adult fitness or human performance someday, Gore said.
Private gifts will fund most of the project, Cardenas said. The private university declined to release its total cost.
The sports center expansion wasn't the only construction project on campus this summer.
• Faculty offices were renovated to make room for 11 new staff positions.
• A new microbiology lab is almost ready for the start of classes in the Cass Science annex.
• Walker Hall nursing facilities have been redesigned and expanded to include new labs and classrooms that should be finished by the first day of school.
• An electron microscope research lab was added to the Plant Hall science wing.
• Classrooms, office and lab renovations in North Walker Hall and R.K. Bailey Arts Studio are finished.
Despite its growth in recent years, the university is committed to staying close to the 17-to-1 student-teacher ratio UT advertises, and officials don't want class sizes extending beyond about 19 students, Gore said.
Elements of the expansion will bring a modern touch to campus. In nursing facilities, for instance, a new simulation lab will include computer-controlled mannequins that mimic humans with various diseases and health conditions.
"We're maximizing existing space on campus and enhancing UT's strong presence in health sciences and human performance," UT president Ronald Vaughn said in a statement.
Justin George can be reached at (813) 226-3368 or firstname.lastname@example.org.