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Latest transformation in UT building frenzy will deliver a new Riverside Center

The Riverside Center at the University of Tampa has undergone two major renovations since it was built in 1962, but nothing like the work under way there this summer. It's part of a construction frenzy at the growing downtown campus that totals more than half a billion dollars in the past 20 years. [CHRIS URSO   |   Times]
The Riverside Center at the University of Tampa has undergone two major renovations since it was built in 1962, but nothing like the work under way there this summer. It's part of a construction frenzy at the growing downtown campus that totals more than half a billion dollars in the past 20 years. [CHRIS URSO | Times]
Published Jun. 19, 2018

TAMPA — In her nearly 40 years at the University of Tampa, Linda Devine has seen plenty of buildings eventually outgrow their usefulness.

There was 10-story Delo Hall, whose elevators quit working and windows eventually leaked in the rain. There were all the buildings put up 100 years ago to house the Florida State Fair on the campus site through 1973.

And now, it's the Riverside Center, built in 1962, one year before John F. Kennedy paraded past along the street later named for him, where the mail room once processed letters to students from mom and dad.

"Times have changed," said Devine, now UT's vice president of operations and planning. "It pulls at my heartstrings to see these old buildings go. But it's time to reform these buildings to meet this university's needs for 2018 and beyond."

Toward that end, the university has undergone some $575 million in new construction during the last 20 years. The new Riverside Center, hugging the west bank of the Hillsborough River, is UT's 26th new or substantially redesigned building since president Ronald Vaughn took the helm in 1995.

The renovation project, which began in May, will add nearly 20,000 square feet of space for a total of 54,000 square feet. Once completed in the fall, it will be home to the Career Services office and classrooms — including state-of-the-art language labs — along with conference rooms and a new, modern post office.

Plans call for the construction frenzy to also include new buildings for graduate, health studies, science and technology programs, and a new cyber-security and organic chemistry lab.

To make room on the 105-acre campus, the university needs do get rid of what Vaughn calls "hand-me-down buildings." The residence halls, housing about 60 percent of the undergraduate population, were built in the 1960s and 1970s. The average age of UT buildings is 49.

Among the oldest is historic Plant Hall, the former Tampa Bay Hotel with its distinctive minarets, which dates to 1888.

"The university has always been faithful in preserving our history and the legacy we hope to leave behind," Devine said. "One of the first things we ask ourselves is whether or not we can preserve the building."

The Riverside Center has already undergone two renovations, in 1969 and 2009.

"We want to continue to make a more comfortable and effective learning and teaching environment," said university spokesman Eric Cardenas. "We just couldn't do that with the existing structure."

The new Riverside Center will also include space for faculty offices to help absorb any sudden addition of new employee hires, an expanded presentation room for the Office of Admissions and additional Admissions' logistics space for managing mailings to prospective students.

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