I hope you all are enjoying your Summer. With the Fall semester quickly approaching, I wanted to provide updates on initiatives that my administration has been working on and offer clarification on some important events that have recently taken place.
Student Government has prioritized affordability and has been working to keep the cost of attendance down. This Summer, the Budget and Appropriations Committee voted to put forth budgets for the 2017-18 and 2018-19 school years that reflected no increase to your Activity and Service fee. However, state-mandated salary increases for full-time employees and increases in the minimum wage have forced the Big Four entities (the Reitz Union, Recreational Sports, Student Activities & Involvement and SG) to reevaluate their budgets and make some cuts to services. Prior administrations made a commitment to bring Newell Hall to life and sought to make the building a 24/7 learning and collaboration center.
This Fall, I am excited that students will have access to an additional study space on campus, but I also know that our current budget constraints refrain SG from funding two 24/7 study spaces. To that end, I have worked with the Provost’s Office to operate Library West at 24/5 this Fall, which will allow the library to be open from 10 a.m. Sunday to 10 p.m. Friday with some additional hours during the day Saturday. During this time, we will be surveying students at both Library West and Newell Hall to determine usage rates and ensure we receive feedback. Additionally, Library West will be open 24/7 during finals, reading days and the week leading up to reading days. I look forward to working with my administration to survey students about this initiative moving forward.
On a similar note, I have heard many students would like more information on the $2 million reserve transfer SG approved a few weeks ago to fix the railings on the Reitz. To give some history, during the recently completed expansion of the Reitz, the existing railings that surround the building and the hotel balconies began to crack. Two 10-foot sections of the railing on the Reitz fell from the fourth level. Each section weighed 2,000 lbs. A structural engineer was immediately brought in to assess the status of all railings on the Reitz. Eleven sections were in very bad condition, immediately removed and replaced with temporary guard rails.
The railings were built during the ‘60s and are made of concrete and rebar. Replacing the railings was imperative due to the threat they posed to students and others on campus who interact near the Reitz. SG first considered whether the Reitz could have taken out a private loan with interest and paid it back over 10 years. The Reitz would have paid approximately $2.4 million and had to cut their existing budget by $240,000 each year. This would have resulted in a loss of student jobs, less operational hours for the printing lab at the Reitz and an overall decrease in services provided to students.
The other option was for SG to pay for the railings through a reserve transfer. The SG reserve account exists from any funds left over from the Big Four at the end of each fiscal year. It is only able to be spent on non-recurring, one-time only expenditures. In evaluating the railing project, SG felt a reserve transfer would save student jobs, maintain the printing lab hours and allow for the students’ money to be put toward providing more services from the Reitz instead of paying off a loan with interest for the railings. With all that being said, we chose the option that eliminated a safety threat and saved students money, jobs and printing lab hours.
Finally, I wanted you all to know where I stand on the reconstruction of the Institute of Black Culture and Institute of Hispanic-Latino Cultures. Over the past two years, Student Body president appointees on the student-majority Capital Improvement Trust Fund Committee have allocated $6.3 million to the institutes project. SG recognizes the importance of these two spaces to each respective community and has supported the commitment to ensure these two spaces remain and support the Black and Hispanic/Latinx communities. After hearing from many students within both communities and talking at great length to my counterparts, Mario Agosto (Student Body vice president) and Revel Lubin (Student Body treasurer), I believe two separate buildings is the best option to maintain the important identities these spaces hold for students from both respective communities and to offer distinct spaces for students at UF to call home.
I will continue to meet with students and administrators throughout this process and look forward to seeing everyone return for the Fall semester.
Student Body president