ST. PETERSBURG — For the third time, the student government body at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg is asking state lawmakers to let the school raise fees to pay for an ambitious construction project.
Proceeds from the increase would be used to build a 35,000-square-foot multipurpose student center at Sixth Avenue S and Second Street. It would include a food court, conference rooms and dorms. The project will also expand the Student Activities Center to fit a health clinic and rooms for student organizations.
The project is estimated to cost $21.9 million, according to university officials.
"We had overwhelming support for the student center and health clinic," said Reuben Pressman, vice president of USF St. Petersburg's student government. "The actual reason students need this is because there is no central location for students to meet or hang out."
Pressman and other student officers asked lawmakers to consider a bill that would let USF St. Petersburg raise its student activities and service fees above a 5 percent cap starting in the 2010-11 school year.
Students would pay a $27 fee per credit hour instead of the current $13.25, officials said. The fee is included in tuition.
The fees would let the university issue bonds for the project, which may take 20 to 30 years to pay off, Pressman said.
"The problem with the state Legislature in every state is that they no longer give money for nonacademic buildings; they only pay for teaching and research facilities," said Kent Kelso, USF St. Petersburg's regional vice chancellor of student affairs.
A campus survey of 700 students conducted last fall indicated support for the project, Pressman said. The reasons are many:
• Campus population has grown. USF St. Petersburg serves about 6,000 students, up from 5,000 in the fall of 2006, according to university officials.
• Unlike the Tampa campus, there are no health clinics.
• The St. Petersburg campus has no food court. Students are limited to a pub and a fast food restaurant.
• The 351-bed dormitory can't keep up with the demand for rooms, Kelso said. Last semester, 130 students were placed on a waiting list. The proposed project would include a 196-bed residence hall, Kelso said.
Student government officers have lobbied hard for support.
"When they came to me with the idea, I thought it was a huge step up," said Rep. Darryl Rouson, who sponsored the House bill. "They are willing to pay out of their own pockets for something that will benefit all of the students."
State lawmakers passed similar proposals twice, but they were vetoed by former Gov. Jeb Bush.
This time, Pressman is hopeful. The legislation, making its way through the committee process, contains a provision that lets the school retire the fee increase after the project is completed.
Student Chris Brown said he wouldn't mind the fee increase. Juggling work, a family and school, he would like a centralized cafeteria.
"The financial issue for me is less than the time factor," he said. "The money has to come from somewhere, and if you expect a certain level of service, you have to be willing to pay for it."