You could say that the newest additions at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg complete the transformation of a commuter school into a vibrant college campus.
A new building — the two-story, $12 million Science and Technology facility — sits just off a new promenade called Harborwalk. The walkway, which has a central plaza feel, includes sweeping vistas of the sprawling campus and Harborwalk's centerpiece, the Debbie and Brent Sembler Family Fountain.
School officials have already used the new "town square" space to host a candlelight vigil for Haiti last week.
The L-shaped walkway connects the academic and administration buildings. It also helps connect the university to downtown at Sixth Avenue S and First Street near Albert Whitted Airport, and a cluster of buildings called the "marine science peninsula."
When viewed from the second-floor breezeway between Davis and Bayboro halls, Harborwalk looks like links to a chain.
"We took an area of the campus that was basically used for parking and turned it into a promenade," said Melanie Marquez, assistant director of news and information at the campus.
The 35,000-square-foot Science and Technology building, which officially opens at 10 a.m. Monday, earned a high LEED certification for its environmentally friendly planning, design and construction materials, the university says. It is already making an impact for the College of Marine Science. It will be the site of the finals of the National Ocean Science Bowl on April 23-25.
It will also support the college's summer oceanography camp for girls.
In addition, the facility will be used to help launch the Marine Resource Assessment Program, which will monitor the Gulf of Mexico to protect coastal resources and provide information to resource managers, according to Bill Hogarth, dean of the college.
Before the building could go up, there was a minor conflict with Federal Aviation Administration rules.
Albert Whitted has a zoning map that shows the maximum allowable building height in the airport's landing pattern, said James Grant, the university's director of facilities, planning and construction.
The proposed building encroached into the limited space by 1 foot, he said. The school requested a variance from the FAA, but the 90-day waiting period for a response conflicted with the construction deadline. So campus officials decided to err on the side of caution.
"The building was adjusted (lowered) by 1 foot in the northeast quadrant'' at a cost of about $20,000, said Grant.
Classrooms in the new building include smart monitors at the lecterns and tiered tables and chairs so each room can be reconfigured for different uses. The second floor includes four teaching labs (two for biology and one each for chemistry and earth science) and five research labs.
The students are the real winners here.
The new facility is quite an upgrade from the labs and rooms used in Davis Hall, and particularly the University Research Lab, which is now fondly referred to as "the closet."
"This is so much better," said Chelsea Weaver, a senior psychology major from Seminole. "Obviously it's new. I'm taking this class as an elective, but I did take classes in the old building."
"There's so much more room for collaboration," said Kira Barrera, a junior from Clearwater.
The building also has dry and wet storage rooms, including space for kayaks that opens to a loading dock on the bay.
Sandra J. Gadsden is editor of Neighborhood Times. She can be reached at (727) 893-8874 or firstname.lastname@example.org.