Dr. John Tigert, President of UF, stands in front of Newell Hall in 1944.
Built in 1910, Newell Hall was the third oldest building on campus, originally housing the Florida Agricultural Experiment Station to provide hands-on research and practice for students. The building was renovated in 1943 under the direction of Rudolph Weaver and named in 1944 for Dr. Wilmon E. Newell, a director of the Station and provost for Agriculture. From the mid-1940s until being vacated in 2012, Newell Hall housed labs and offices for what later became the UF Institute for Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS). In 1979, the building was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places and later became a part of UF’s Campus Historic District.
Situated on the corner of Buckman Drive and Stadium Road, Newell Hall had been unoccupied and out of service for several years because the building failed to meet the code requirements necessary to continue occupation. Dating back to 2009, President Machen had been approached by several entities from across campus who wanted to renovate the space for different uses. IFAS wanted to renovate Newell Hall into updated office and lab space. UF Libraries wanted to create a Student Research Commons. The Honors College wanted to relocate to a new location on campus. Students, however, wanted to turn Newell Hall into much needed student study space, due to continual unmet demand for more space, as well as the location of the building relative to the core of campus. President Machen let each entity know that the first group to come up with a way to fund the renovations of their plan for the building would be the group given the ability to renovate and own the building.
In 2009 and 2011, students at the University of Florida who completed the Student Experience in the Research University (SERU) Survey listed study space as the single most important thing their university could do to better their educational experience. Citing this information, among additional testimony, in 2012, Student Body President TJ Villamil pitched the idea of a “Library without Books” for Newell Hall to University Administrators, President Machen, and the Board of Trustees. There was overwhelming support for the plan at the university level; however, when the 2013 Legislative Session occurred, the funding source was not available as planned, as the state prohibited the bonding of all fees, which included the CITF fee Newell Hall hoped to utilize.
Knowing that study space was still a top concern for students, and knowing that Newell Hall was still unoccupied, the Student Body President who followed TJ in 2013, Christina Bonarrigo, made it her goal to find funding for Newell Hall. She continued with the theme of a “Library without Books.” Christina also furthered the goals of the building as she expressed the need for our Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) students to have spaces where they can collaborate in an innovative and creative environment, unlike that of a traditional library, in a location near many of their classroom buildings. She also expressed the general need and consistent request from all students at UF for increased student study space on campus. Christina worked very closely with her Director of External Affairs within Student Government, Abby Whiddon, to draft a plan that requested $15 million from the state legislature’s general revenue, to be allocated during the 2014 Legislative Session. Following several meetings with legislators in Tallahassee, the two soon learned the state was only interested in a public/private partnership and would only allocate general revenue funds if the university would contribute as well. Christina and Abby met with President Machen and shared with him the update about their potential source of funding for Newell Hall; they explained the estimated cost of the renovation was $15 million, and that the state would potentially contribute $10 million if the university would contribute the remaining $5 million. President Machen let Christina and Abby know that if they were successful in obtaining $10 million from the state, he would commit $5 million in private funding for the project.
After several meetings at the Capitol with key members in both chambers, as well as the Governor’s office, the $10 million request for Newell Hall funding was placed as a line item in both the State House and State Senate’s initial budget proposals. The line item remained in the budget as it passed through both the House and the Senate. The allocation of funds was nearly final; however, the Governor then reviewed the budget and began to evaluate which line items he would eventually veto.
As the budget made it to Governor Scott’s office and awaited his signature, Cory Yeffet was elected Student Body President, and succeeding Christina Bonarrigo. Cory and his Director of External Affairs, Blake Murphy, worked closely with their representatives in Tallahassee to compile updated information and presentations for the Governor’s staff. One final trip was made to Tallahassee by Cory Yeffet and Blake Murphy and one final pitch was made on Newell Hall. The two discussed the benefits of an innovative, creative, unique, and collaborative learning environment on UF’s campus, as well as the general need for increased study space at the continual request of the student body since 2009.
Ultimately, the line item was not vetoed. Governor Scott signed the 2014 budget into law on June 2, 2014, which included a $10 million allocation to the Newell Hall project. President Machen was made aware of the successful allocation, and committed to the students the $5 million in private funding as well as the rights to occupy and operate Newell Hall.
Following receiving the funding for the Newell Hall project, Student Body President Cory Yeffet and Vice President of Student Affairs Dave Kratzer met with Provost Joe Glover to discuss the ownership and operation of the facility. It was agreed upon during the summer of 2014 that the owner and operator of Newell Hall would be the Division of Student Affairs, and that there was no requirement for additional tenants to be included in the space.
Fore more information about the history of Newell Hall, please visit the UF Historic Campus website by clicking here.