Renovating a Historic Gem
Since taking over the reins of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences in 2001, Dean Neil Sullivan has made it his mission to create a center for the humanities at the University of Florida. "The vision is to have this international center--an intellectual plaza--where famous historians, writers, philosophers and scholars can come together and exchange ideas," he says. With a taskforce in place to guide its formation, as well as an endowment to hire a director, the UF Center for the Humanities and the Public Sphere seems to be well under way. Just one major hurdle needs to be jumped in order for the center to be established--it needs a place to call home.
"Having a place to gather for the lecturing, researching and teaching is essential for a humanities center," says John Leavey, chair of the English department and a member of the humanities taskforce. "We have had consultants come to campus who are running important humanities centers throughout the US to talk about our plans and how this can all come about. The consensus is that if you are to have a successful center for the humanities, you have to have a place where the faculty know they can go."
The UF provost's office has promised CLAS Newell Hall, a building conveniently located next to the college's Turlington and Dauer Halls, if it can raise the $12-14 million needed to renovate the 95-year-old facility. Built in 1909 as UF's agricultural station, Newell is one of the oldest permanent buildings on campus and is listed on the national historic registry. Its renovation would complete the college's goal of restoring the university's historic center.
"In the late 1940s, Newell was renovated and many of the historical features were removed," says James Mueller, a religion professor and the CLAS associate dean of administrative affairs. "The original entrance, the grand double staircase and many other features were destroyed. So we want to not only renovate this space to make it usable, we also want to completely gut it, like Keene-Flint and Anderson Halls, and restore it to its original state--which is a huge undertaking."
While restoring the building's facade to its historical beauty, the interior will be completely transformed into a state-of-the-art learning facility. It will be completely wired for computer and digital access, and its classrooms will be fitted with the latest multimedia technology. The new center will occupy the first floor, featuring new teaching facilities, and will serve as a gathering space for cross-field collaborations between faculty and students in the humanities.
The center will be designed for hosting seminars and classes, as well as public outreach events and lecture series. The building also will house departments and centers intimately linked to the humanities, such as African studies, Jewish studies, and applied philosophy and ethics. Offices on campus vacated by these programs will be used by other CLAS departments, freeing up critically needed space for the rapidly expanding college. As the largest college on campus with the responsibility of teaching more than 35,000 students, CLAS is often strained for classroom space. In the past two years alone the college has acquired nearly 1,000 new majors. "CLAS is in many ways growing faster than the university as a whole," says Sullivan. "We are the fastest growing college on campus, and the planned renovation of Newell Hall will not only provide a home for the new humanities center, but will open up space to be used by other departments and centers."
Once fundraising is complete, the renovation and restoration of Newell Hall is expected to take around two years to complete. "There is no way a university can move forward and become a top-tier school without achieving recognition in this area," Sullivan says. "If we can be excellent in the humanities, UF will become positioned among the top universities in the nation."
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