When Isabella Campbell came to UF from Guatemala in 2017, she struggled to find a place where she fit in.
“I felt left out,” the 20-year-old UF mechanical engineering sophomore said.
That was until, when looking for a study space, she wandered onto the second floor of the Reitz Union. There she found La Salita, a space for Hispanic and Latinx students to gather while the Institute of Hispanic-Latino Cultures, known as La Casita, undergoes construction.
Soon, Campbell will be able to study at La Casita, with it and the Institute of Black Culture, scheduled to open in Fall, at 1504 and 1510 W. University Ave., said William Atkins, director of UF multicultural affairs.
“It’s a really great place,” Campbell said. “Here you feel comfortable, you feel represented.”
The project is funded by UF Capital Investment Trust Fund and will cost $9,921,048, Atkins said.
On Feb. 15, there will be a “topping out” celebration, where onlookers can see the final structural steel beam placed on top of each of the two buildings, Atkins said.
“Progress is being made, we’re moving along nicely,” Atkins said.
The Institute of Black Culture is expected to have a “residential aesthetic” with a “timeless look,” including a modern-style entry lobby, a café, an event space, a living room, a conference room, a study room and a reflection room, Atkins said.
La Casita will have a similar design, with a private study room, event space, conference room, living room and lobby, Atkins said.
The original buildings were houses built in the early 1900s, Atkins said. The initiative for the new buildings came after a series of facility issues were presented to the UF Capital Investment Trust Fund in Fall 2015.
“These buildings will be a reminder of the great legacy that’s been established prior to current students and alum being here,” he said.
Students expressed concern about the presence of mold, termites and wood rot, as well as not meeting ADA compliance standards, he said.
“After approaching 100 years, it was about time for an upgrade and renovations,” Atkins said.
Black Student Union President Akil Reynolds, a UF public health senior, said that although he was excited at first to hear about the rebuilding of these spaces, he now is a bit conflicted by the choice to demolish the original structures.
“I don’t completely agree with complete demolition,” the 21-year-old said. “The preservation of the original buildings was important to black history and student activism.”