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UNF construction creates new campus landmarks


Back in the early 1970s, Building 1, now known as J.J. Daniel Hall, was the University of North Florida’s main campus landmark.


It wasn’t a matter of choice. Building 1 was the first — and only — campus landmark at the time.


As the years passed, other campus meeting points popped up. The Green has been a consistent congregation point for students looking for a game of Frisbee or a quick nap in the sun. The Boathouse has always been a popular spot to unwind and meet up with friends.


But in the past decade, the number of campus landmarks has grown at an unprecedented rate. Scores of new buildings have been either built, renovated or acquired, and the core of campus has grown exponentially.


The past year has been no different. Here’s a breakdown of four recently completed construction projects that will be indelible campus landmarks for the next 40 years.


Biological Sciences Building 


The University of North Florida’s newest academic landmark, the glass-encased Biological Sciences Building opened for business March 30.


The multi-purpose, $39.4 million facility finished under budget and ahead of schedule and was paid for completely through Public Education Capital Outlay (PECO) Funds earmarked by the state for construction.


The summer semester marked the building’s first full semester of use. Dr. Courtney Hackney, director of the Coastal Biology Flagship Program, oversaw much of the construction and worked closely with crews to implement many design touches that have helped make the building incredibly user-friendly and versatile.


Most of the teaching spaces were designed for multipurpose usage by professors and researchers. The teaching labs are connected to smaller prep rooms in which instructors can prepare for classes without having to leave the building. The labs are also research-ready to give the students a real-world perspective of working in a fully functional research environment.


This is also the seventh green building on campus since 2005. Most of the other facilities on campus are Silver LEED Certified from the U.S. Green Building Council, as is the Biological Sciences Building, but Hackney said the Biological Sciences Building has been submitted for Gold certification, which requires a higher standard of green compliance. Everything, from the widespread use of glass as opposed to physical lighting down to the building’s air system, was designed to work smoothly with a minimal energy footprint.


From an academic standpoint, the facility is outfitted with specialized labs for aquatic biology classes and offers access to a seawater system that will help researchers maintain the ideal environment for their work. The seawater circulates through the entire building and is pumped from a 6,000-gallon tank housed in the bowels of the facility. The water is specially shipped from Marineland and is ideal for research purposes. There are also non-slip floors to keep everyone on their feet, even in the wet world of aquatics research.


Additionally, there is a specialized necropsy lab in which marine researchers can examine or dissect sea creatures. It’s the only lab of its kind in a four-state region, and Hackney said state and federal officials might call on UNF when they need access to such a high-tech facility. Even the top floor is decked out with a roof-top greenhouse containing plants used in teaching labs as well as living corals and other marine life for use in both teaching and research labs. The greenhouse is temperature- and moisture-controlled so students and faculty can tweak the living conditions of their botany projects.


Taken from a simple numbers perspective, the new building is a huge improvement for UNF’s biological community, Hackney said. The 116,500-square-foot facility includes 17 teaching labs and 28 faculty research labs for aquatics, virology, ecology, genetics, physiology, molecular biology and molecular cell biology and the Coastal Biology program. It’s a far cry from years past when biology labs were cramped and cluttered with research tools, and faculty offices were distributed in myriad locations across campus.


While the building was equipped to be as functional as possible, there are a few architectural touches that give it a little aesthetic flash. It’s hard to miss the biology vocabulary words engraved in the building’s façade: research, evolution, ecology and teaching. The Tree of Life, which represents and lists the evolution of all living creatures, is also carefully engraved into the glass walls on the conference rooms leading up all three floors.


Student Wellness Complex 


Another noticeable landmark to join the campus skyline is the long-awaited, 75,000-square-foot Student Wellness Complex, which opened this summer. The $19.5 million dollar facility is an all-in-one fitness and sports learning facility that boasts some of the best equipment and amenities of any comparable structure in the state.


Every single fitness discipline is represented in the building’s spacious suite of workout rooms and gym space. A 32-foot-tall climbing wall that offers panoramic views of the three-level building and a stand-alone Jamba Juice installation will greet visitors along with the front-desk staff the moment guests step inside.


Three dedicated indoor group fitness rooms and one outdoor multi-use balcony group fitness space give the staff of trained fitness instructors the opportunity to lead four different classes simultaneously. The list of classes is exhaustive — yoga, martial arts, group fitness — and the rooms are adaptable to new fitness programs as well.


The Dottie Dorion Fitness Center, which encompasses about 27,000-square-feet of floor space on the second level, is more than quadruple the size of the University’s old gym and boasts an updated assortment of cardio and weight equipment.


Serious lifters have access to a host of sturdy strength-training equipment and power racks. Cross-training devotees have their own dedicated “workout of the day” area complete with muscle-up rings, pull-up bars and a wall built to withstand the strongest medicine-ball tosses.


There is even a starter area where trainers can consult with fitness newbies on their goals and training history in a stress-free environment. 


A 1/8-mile track on the third level circumnavigates the perimeter of the building and offers incredible views of the campus landscape. Cardio fans have their choice of dozens of treadmills and ellipticals — just in case running on the indoor track gets a little stale. The Health Promotion and Campus Recreation departments will also have offices in the complex.


Shelly Purser, director of Health Promotion, said the facility shows the University’s commitment to offering students and the entire campus community access to world-class health and wellness options.

“Health and wellness is important to the life of the campus, and it’s even a part of student retention,” she said. “Students who are healthier are better equipped to attend classes and expend the energy to get the most out of their University experiences. This facility has a little something for everyone to find their health goals and flourish.”


Zak Ovadia, director of Campus Planning, Design and Construction, said the Wellness Complex ties in aesthetically with some of the design flourishes present in its campus neighbor, the Student Union. It’s also sustainable and green, a University requirement for any new structure.


“This building will be one of the largest and best-equipped wellness centers in Northeast Florida,” Ovadia said. “It meets and exceeds the students’ needs for exercise and fitness equipment and gives the University a base for wellness activities now and into the future.”


The facility is also available to alumni for a $25 monthly fee, or $250 for an annual membership. A full list of rates is online at


Ropes Course 


On the other side of campus alongside Lake Oneida in the beautiful Robert W. Loftin Nature Trails, another wellness-oriented project recently finished construction. Built primarily of wood and natural materials instead of metal and glass, UNF’s new ropes course will allow the campus community to reach new heights in the fall.


AyoLane Halusky, chief ranger for UNF’s Wildlife Sanctuary, said the ropes course offers high and low-ropes activities for participants. A group of about a dozen staffers will work in different shifts for safety purposes whenever participants strap themselves in and start climbing.


Halusky said the course, which has been in the works since 2007 and cost roughly $250,000, was approved for construction by Student Government. It offers individuals or groups a physical and emotional release in a serene, natural environment.


“It’s about pushing yourself and learning more about your limits,” Halusky said. “This can be done in the context of team-building exercises or just on a personal basis. But this kind of exercise allows you to go to a place that isn’t accessible in everyday life.”

The full structure integrates high-ropes elements that allow participants to be suspended about 30 feet above the ground and zip line through the trees with low-ropes challenges that have them scaling walls and maintaining balance on shifting wooden planks.

The course is only open currently to students, but Halusky said that would later expand to alumni, faculty, staff and outside community members. There will be a daily charge, but rates have not been set.


“This is a prospective changing course,” he said. “Being up there with little more than yourself and the people you came with, it requires a certain level of mental and spiritual strength. This isn’t just a physical challenge. We want people to learn more about themselves when they’re up there.”


The Commons — UNF’s new dining facility 


Built on the same site as UNF’s previous cafeteria, which served Ospreys since the late 1970s, the new UNF dining facility — known as The Commons — is a four-story monolith of flavorful food and exemplary service.


The old cafeteria — a one-story building that was one of the oldest structures on campus — was demolished in mid-2011. Construction of the new, $13-million facility started in May 2011, and it opened this August.


The building follows a similar model to other new campus structures — heavy on glass and natural light while being mandated to achieve at least USGBC LEED Silver Certification. Overlooking UNF’s Candy Cane Lake, it offers a picturesque view of the campus’ natural landscape while being positioned in a readily accessible location for hungry students, faculty and staff.


After stepping foot in the 26,000-square-foot, first-and-second floor Osprey Café dining area, diners familiar with the older facility will undoubtedly be impressed by the widespread improvements to the menu and front-of-house service.


Different cuisines — everything from grilled favorites to healthier vegan and gluten-free fare or varied ethnic staples — will be split into separate pods. There will be no reheating or microwaved food — everything will be made fresh in front of diners.


Dave Jordan, resident district manager for Chartwells, said there will be a total of 10 different points of service with two separate action stations where Chartwells chefs will prepare the day’s special.


“People who come in for the first time, they might be a little overwhelmed with all the food choices,” he said. “There are so many options, they’ll spend some time wondering where to go.”


The new facility is a massive improvement in every area of comparison to the old dining hall, Jordan said.


It’s open longer hours. It has a larger staff of about 60 part-time student and full-time workers. It also has three additional floors and office space for Facilities Planning staff on the third floor. The fourth floor boasts a dedicated Faculty Lounge with a warming kitchen, bar and other amenities. On the same floor is the Talon Room, a sprawling ballroom that can be used to host University functions.


The construction crew was even led by one of UNF’s own. Will Schat, a 1994 construction management graduate, served as the project director for Barton Malow, the company in charge of the build. Two other graduates of construction management were also involved in the The Commons project: Denny Bucy, Miller Electric Company project manager; and Ryan Schmitt, president of Petticoat Schmitt Contracting, Inc.