The temporary spaces are no longer. The construction is over. Students, faculty, staff, activities and organization areas are finally welcome in their new homes. Today marks the official first day at the renovated and expanded University of Florida, Reitz Student Union. From the groundbreaking in September 2013 to the opening, the campus certainly has reason to celebrate.
“From day one,” said Roland Lemke, project principal, “we knew the University of Florida wanted a union that was unique to the Gator family. And I think we delivered with a building that honors UF’s brand and how the campus wants to be represented. This building will impress anyone that enters it.”
From a design point-of-view, gator-based features are respectfully seen throughout the building – from wood panels replicating patterns on an alligator’s belly, to the subtle “teeth look” on exterior glass, to colors and textures of a gator’s scales and tail. Visual connections showcased from the atrium’s vertical expanse link the activities housed here, but also allow campus views and set the stage for events still to happen.
“The Reitz Union possesses a fully integrated, LEED platinum design and incorporates the important storytelling of our campus so students will always know they are members of the University of Florida,” Norbert W. Dunkel, associate vice president for student affairs, University of Florida, previously stated. “Importantly, the design had to incorporate the renovated, existing, 50-year-old structure and married it to the incredible expansion. This contemporary design meets the needs of the 21st century students who wish to pursue leadership, service, engagement and discovery.”
Moving forward is often impacted by the past. The J. Wayne Reitz Union was originally built in 1967 when UF’s student body was less than 20,000 students. With numerous additions and renovations over the years, it never created a true living room for the campus community. This 120,000 sf addition and 100,000 sf renovation now provides a place where any student would want to hang out, become involved in student activities and organizations or conduct meetings. The expansion and renovation project now reflects a diverse student population and provides much-needed student spaces.
Encouraging student engagement and creating places for them; from the Center for Leadership and Service, the Department of Student Activities and Involvement, the Office of Multicultural and Diversity Affairs, GatorWell Health Promotion Services and student clubs; in a central location can only benefit UF and its students. Additional areas include new study spaces, meeting rooms, lounges, dance rehearsal studios and a ballroom. “Our design lens never lost sight of balancing student life and activities. After all, experiences from these years define who students are long after they graduate. This building is more than bricks-and-mortar; it helps create experiences,” notes Lemke.
And this building’s story is larger than what can be easily seen. Increased energy-efficiency and sustainability were always project drivers. Reduced operational costs and greatly enhancing comfort and functionality were also always at the forefront. New energy-efficient windows and doors, restoration of exterior surfaces and structural components, replacement and upgrades of electrical, plumbing and HVAC systems, and upgrades to interior finishes and lighting were integrated in to the new and existing structure.
“As a UF alumni I am especially proud of this project, and feel personally rewarded working on this campus,” said Brad Lukanic, executive director, education. “The J. Wayne Reitz Union’s legacy is now further reinforced for future student generations to learn and discover in this place – a central campus place, a home for the diverse activities supported within, and the endless opportunities for students and the entire UF community.”