Citing student safety concerns, Student Government will pay $2 million out of its reserves to fund a railing repairs project on the Reitz Union’s exterior.
Student Body President Smith Meyers said SG made the railings a financial priority because they posed a “direct safety threat” for students and others who walk by the Reitz.
Meyers said during the Reitz’s two-and-half-year $70.7-million renovation and expansion project that ended in February 2016, power tools used on the site hit the natural frequency of some of the railings, causing them to crack and start falling off the structure.
In 2015, two 10-foot sections of the guard railing fell from the fourth level of the Reitz, Meyers said.
“It was a pretty serious safety hazard for students and other people that would be walking around the union on campus, so we needed to get these repaired right away,” Meyers said.
To pay for the $2 million repair work, Meyers said SG’s only two options were to dip into its reserve funds — left over money the organization saves after each fiscal year — or have the Reitz Union Board of Managers take out a loan using student activities and service fees.
He said for the Reitz Board to take out a loan, it would have cost an additional $240,000 a year in interest on top of the $2 million. SG would’ve had to compensate interest charges by cutting student jobs at the Reitz Union or reducing operational hours at the Reitz’s printing lab.
“Overall, the whole goal behind this was to save students money,” Meyers said.
Of the total cost, $1,889,997 will go toward construction costs, $19,850 will go toward engineer costs, $2,600 will pay for specialty consultants, $8,500 will fund a building permit and $79,053 will fund project contingency costs, according to a Student Senate bill signed and approved June 12 by Meyers and David Parrot, the vice president for Student Affairs.
Meyers also said he feels this infrastructure project is to be funded by SG rather than UF because the Reitz Union already assumes a big part of SG's responsibilities.
"It would make sense that Student Government is involved in any safety hazards and putting more money to enhance student safety," Meyers said. "The Reitz Union is a big part of where we allocate student service fee money."
While some students sympathize with SG’s move to ensure student safety with the railings, others see the $2 million as money that could’ve been spent elsewhere.
Rachel Parker, a 20-year-old UF family, youth and community sciences junior, said when discussing the railings, she can only think of Library West.
“It’d make more sense to take that $2 million and put it towards Library West — so it’d be 24/7 instead of 24/5,” Parker said.
“I don’t know why it would cost $2 million,” she said of the railings.
For Jordan Zeldin, 22, he understands SG’s calls for safety.
Zeldin, who graduated in May with a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary biomedical sciences, said it seems reasonable to focus on keeping the Reitz together if there were serious safety issues from the past expansion project.
“I’d say go for it,” Zeldin said. “Put $2 million in and make sure the whole Reitz Union doesn’t collapse.”