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A USF milestone: Three new dorms, more than 6,300 students living on campus

Students on Thursday get ready to move into Endeavor, one of three new residence halls opening this week on the University of South Florida's Tampa campus. An area of campus known as the Village was designed to offer neighborhood-style living, part of an overall effort to give USF a more residential feel. More students live on campus now than ever -- an all-time high of 6,300. [BRONTE WITTPENN | Times]
Published Aug. 17, 2018

TAMPA — The paint on Pinnacle Hall's white-and-gold walls still smelled fresh as Lilly Myskey led a parade of parents and bins and bags down the hall toward her new room at the University of South Florida.

"Speaking of the building being brand-new, Lilly, you do not have a trash can because it hasn't been delivered yet," said her resident assistant, Dulcy Olson, trailing behind in her green USF polo. "So maybe, like, a trash pile."

"Just like at home," Lilly's mom, Jinny, called out with a laugh. Well, she said more quietly, she was just teasing: "I want something for her to miss."

But Lilly, 18, was already far ahead, striding past the sunny corner lounge with its new couches, past the bare dorm room doors, and into Room 437, where plastic painter's sheeting still covered the window. The Myskeys, who had started the journey from Fayetteville, N.C., the day before, wheeled in a box with Lilly's Ninja Coffee Bar machine and turquoise lacrosse stick and took it all in: One bed frame with one blue mattress, one desk and one set of drawers.

Lilly giggled as she watched her parents realize she'd gotten a single. No roommate.

"Beauty and brains," her mom said.

The freshman had wanted an apartment, but her mom thought an on-campus experience would give her a better start. Now she's one of 6,300 residential students at USF — the most ever to call the Tampa campus home.

ALSO READ: It's harder than ever to get into USF. Some worry about the downside.

On Thursday, thousands of them descended on the dorms, lugging cardboard boxes bursting with hangers and detergent and toasters fresh from Target. Many moved into Myskey's new hall, which along with the new Horizon and Endeavor halls, have added 1,100 on-campus beds.

The new halls mark the completion of an ambitious project, called the Village, that tilts USF further in the direction of the residential campus it has long wanted to be.

A short walk north of the Marshall Student Center, the Village adds a community feel to USF's car-heavy campus.

There's a dining hall called the Hub, featuring vegan cupcakes, allergy-free fare and, of course, a pizza station. There's a spacious fitness and wellness center with a curvy pool (more space for students to hang out at the edge) and a meditation room with nap pods and bean bag chairs. There's a Burger Fi, a Starbucks and a soon-to-debut Publix under construction. And there are two other residence halls, Beacon and Summit, which opened last year with room for about 850 students.

"It's right in the middle of everything," said Alexa Gutierrez, 18, helping her roommate Autumn Mogelvang push a cart toward the SUV where their minifridge waited.

Gutierrez wiped the sweat from her face and talked about how, from little Fort Walton Beach in the Panhandle, she'd wanted an urban campus like this. Mogelvang, 17 from Naples, said she'd loved how the campus felt so clean, with everything she needed within reach.

"And," she said, "there's a Publix."

Each one of the Village's buildings features plenty of glass, said Ana Hernandez, assistant vice president of housing and residential education, so that when students walk through the Village at night, all those bright windows will make the campus feel alive.

"We have been on a path to really try to create a very vibrant campus community," she said.

That has meant making spaces where students want to spend time, even if they're commuting home at the end of the day.

In recent decades, USF has vastly expanded campus housing, pointing to improved academic performance and retention rates, plus a stronger sense of belonging. Building a home on campus goes a long way in forging an identity as a Bull.

"We say 'Live the Bull's life' because we feel like being on campus is really the Bull experience," Hernandez said.

The Village rose quickly out of the rubble of what used to be the worn-out Andros complex, which had housed more than 50,000 students since the early 1960s. As USF President Judy Genshaft quipped in 2016: "More paint on Andros wasn't going to help."

MORE USF COVERAGE: Preeminent at last — USF presents its official case for joining Florida's top university ranks

At a time when student demand for beds had outpaced capacity, with single rooms acting as doubles and doubles as triples, the $134 million Village has finally alleviated that pressure. It was created though a public-private partnership, funded and operated by Capstone Development Partners, LLC, and Harrison Street Real Estate Capital.

In the next few years, USF will invest millions in its other dorms to keep them in good shape, Hernandez said. When demand crops up, it will consider growing again.

In Pinnacle Hall, Lilly Myskey paced her new room barefoot, wondering where to put her desk. Should she hang curtains? Raise her bed? Her clothes were still in bins, her bed unmade. Her dad, Rick, was already thinking ahead, telling the resident assistant that Lilly would make a good RA, too, and a good member of the club lacrosse team.

"We're going to talk," said Dulcy Olsen. "This is going to be good, Lilly."

Contact Claire McNeill at cmcneill@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8321. Follow @clairemcneill.

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