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An artistic rendering of a major expansion and renovation to UF's Office of Student Life.

Tuesday June 10, 2014Design Fees Approved to Renovate and Expand Office of Student Life

An artistic rendering of a major expansion and renovation to UF's Office of Student Life.

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – On recruiting visits, prospective University of Florida student-athletes take a tour of The Swamp, of course. There is no other place like it on campus when 90,000 fans are roaring after a Gators touchdown.

They visit other UF athletic facilities as well, the focus usually on the one they will call home if they sign with the Gators. They also visit a campus landmark that doesn’t receive nearly the attention publicly as some of its neighbors: UF’s Office of Student Life housed in Farrior Hall.

The building sits in the shadows of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium’s east stands and houses Florida’s academic support staff.

Jeremy Foley

UF and the University Athletic Association announced plans Tuesday to proceed with design plans to renovate and expand the facility with upgrades that will make the building one of the most advanced academic centers on campus.

“We have received a legitimate and serious fund-raising commitment that has kick-started this building,’’ UF Athletic Director Jeremy Foley said. “We are going to begin designing it ASAP because that facility is equally important to our future as the O’Connell Center project.”

While details of the estimated $25 million project remain fluid, the UAA Board of Directors approved a request Tuesday for $1.75 million in funding for the OSL's preliminary design fees.

The project is one embraced by UF coaches.

“In recruiting we say, “Show, don’t tell,’ ” Gators volleyball coach Mary Wise said. “I think the improvements made to the Office of Student Life will be huge, not just for recruiting, but for our current athletes. There is just such a lack of space.”

More space (35,000 square feet to 80,000 square feet), technological advances and other improvements are planned to make the OSL a state-of-the-art facility for daily use by the more than 500 student-athletes who compete for the Gators.

The proposed expansion includes new computer labs, additional office space for OSL staff, 50 tutoring rooms, a nutrition wing, sports medicine research area and 125-seat auditorium for classes, seminars and orientation sessions. A three-story lobby that recognizes donors and students is also included in the plans.

Foley’s mantra to recruits and their parents is that if they come to UF, they are “going to compete for championships and graduate.”

Modernizing the OSL is a key piece to that equation as the program moves deeper into the 21st Century.

“Our goal, our dream, our vision, is that this will be a facility that is second to none in the country,’’ Foley said. “We want it to be cutting edge, something where our student-athletes come here on recruiting trips and go, ‘Wow. They talk about this being a top-10 academic institution, look at this facility. It’s pretty evident that they are.’

“More and more, when it comes to recruiting, the academic goals and visions these kids and these parents have are equally important to them as where they are going to play, who they are going to play, and what position they are going to play. I think this new facility will showcase our commitment.”

Florida men’s basketball coach Billy Donovan has won big on the court and off the court by recruiting players who want to enjoy the college experience as much as playing success. No two players better exhibited that in recent years than Patric Young and Will Yeguete.

Donovan is optimistic the renovated facility will add to Florida’s allure as an athletic and academic institution.

“I think the one thing you have to do -- and Jeremy is doing a great job -- you always have to look at where you can evolve and get better,’’ Donovan said. “Jeremy’s major responsibility is fiscally making business decisions that grow the athletic department at a rate he’s comfortable with. What happens, it seems like you start one project when another is starting, and another, and it’s never ending.

“That's a hard thing to manage. But I think the OSL building -- like the O’Dome, though not as old -- needs to be upgraded. We need to take the next step now. With things changing all over, that building needs to change, too. These are decisions that are moving our athletic program more into the future.”

Donovan’s colleague, UF women’s basketball coach Amanda Butler, agrees.

“That will be a building we’ll spend a lot of time talking about, touring and showing all the bells and whistles that continue to enhance what’s already a good thing,’’ she said.

Gators gymnastics coach Rhonda Faehn’s program has won back-to-back national titles. She experienced the boost a facility upgrade can provide a program last year when UF’s new gymnastics training facility opened.

The upgrade included additional space, improved offices and modern touches that make a lasting impression with recruits and their families.

She envisions the OSL project to have a similar impact, not only on her program, but every one on campus.

“That's definitely a significant piece of the puzzle,’’ Faehn said. “We tell the recruits they're student-athletes -- and there's a reason 'student' comes first. It's important that each and every one of them is 100 percent taken care of and provided for from the time they come in the door.

“I've seen the graphics for the OSL and it will be a statement piece and huge selling point for the University of Florida and our overall package as we continue to push the envelope of excellence.”


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