Student Activity Center planned

The center of life on campus for the past 40 years has been the Whitten University Center. The UC, as it is more popularly known, houses a myriad of University staples, from student organization offices to the Convenience Store.

Yet, according to Daniel L. Westbrook, director of the UC, the University community has asked for new services and spaces during the last decade “that can’t be met simply by redecorating.”

Enter the Student Activity Center, a plan that would renovate the current UC and build a brand-new, three-story student activity center on what is now the site of the Rathskeller.

The new building would include a two-story Rathskeller and more than 10,000 square feet of undergraduate, graduate and law student organization offices; a media center for the newspaper and yearbook offices; and a new studio for WVUM, the University’s student-run radio station. It would also have more meeting rooms and retail space, and a “huge” multipurpose room on the third floor.

The second phase of the project would renovate the current UC, adding a 400-seat theater and more office space. It would change the Flamingo Ballroom to a dance practice area with wooden floors and mirrored walls. New swimming pool locker rooms would be constructed, and the sundeck would be expanded.

The two buildings would be joined by a patio plaza, which would be terraced to the water. A new outdoor stage would be built closer to the lakeshore, creating an amphitheater-like effect.

So far, students seem receptive to the plan.

“The project seems like an awesome idea,” said Patricia Coronado, junior, “even though I am not going to have the opportunity to enjoy it.”

The amenities for the new center were decided upon after a series of student surveys and focus groups were held in 2003.

No specific construction dates have been set, as the building design has to be finalized and approved by the University and the city of Coral Gables. Once approved, the University will entertain a bidding process to find a builder. Construction is estimated to take 18 to 24 months once it begins.

Westbrook said the goal is for freshmen to see a completed facility upon graduating.

Until designs are finalized, the exact construction costs are undetermined. However, Westbrook said that the project will be funded jointly by UM and the student body, with half of the funds to be raised as part of President Donna E. Shalala’s Momentum campaign. The other half will be raised by students, if they approve a referendum expected to be on the ballot at some point during the upcoming school year.

Patricia Mazzei can be contacted at