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May 22, 2018

Higher Education

Campus Crusade

Florida's cramped universities need $3.4 billion for construction projects to meet student demands by 2012.

Mike Vogel | 6/1/2007

Last November, the University of Florida held a grand opening for its 280,000-sq.-ft. cancer and genetics research building in Gainesville. "The biggest research building" on the campus, says Douglas Barrett, head of UF's health sciences.

Barrett says he has been on a mission to build research space ever since UF doubled its research funding without adding space. "I said this is simply not sustainable," Barrett says. "They say, 'What are your priorities?' It's labs. And after that labs and labs."

Lab Work: Douglas Barrett, head of UF's health sciences college (standing in front of the university's new cancer and genetics building), says his priorities are "labs. And after that labs and labs."
[Photo: Jeffrey Camp]
At Florida's universities, it's building -- and after that building and building, in a mix of ambition and need. Florida's universities added 50,000 students in the last five years and project 50,000 more by 2012. Then there's research. UF and its president, Bernie Machen, want to be in the top 10 among public research universities. Thus it has added in the last four years 600,000 square feet of research space, including its cancer and genetics research center. Ahead, it has tens of millions more in research room spending on the drawing boards. UF isn't alone in wanting to be in the research big leagues. Funded research at the state's universities jumped to $1.3 billion in 2005 from $750 million in 1998, and universities want more. "Even if we didn't get another student, we would still have high stress on our research facilities," says system Chancellor Mark Rosenberg.

Throw in amenities such as student unions, projects such as stadiums and ubiquitous parking garages, and Florida will need to be well-stocked with cement mixers.
And cash:

  • Based on square feet per student, Florida's public university system is one of the most crowded in the country. All told, the universities need $3.4 billion to put up another 10 million square feet of classroom and lab space by 2012 to meet demand. As the state currently does business, 50% of needed space will be funded by 2013. "We're very worried about the ability of our facilities to absorb that growth and stay competitive," Rosenberg says.
  • Buildings constructed to educate Baby Boomers are in need of renovation and retrofitting as they reach age 40. The state estimates a $1-billion backlog in maintenance.
  • Universities, community colleges and the K-12 system share the same funds generated by the utilities and communications services tax to construct buildings. The universities historically got 31% of the pie, but that's under pressure from voter-mandated K-12 class-size reductions.
  • The global construction boom has driven up the cost of steel and cement for Florida university building.

Tags: Education, Housing/Construction

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