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Newell Hall Transformed For Students

Newell Hall, which has seen multiple transformations in its 107-year history, is expected to open in late April for University of Florida students as a 24/7 study space.
Newell Hall, which has seen multiple transformations in its 107-year history, is expected to open in late April for University of Florida students as a 24/7 study space.

There used to only be a field of crops south of Newell Hall when it was built in 1910. It was inducted into the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 1979, and now in 2017, the hall is finishing up its latest transformation.

University of Florida students will soon be able to enjoy a space dedicated entirely for studying 24/7. The building welcomes 107 years of change and its transformation has been in the works since 2012.

Newell is the third oldest building on campus. The hall was previously the agriculture research station. Falling out of code compliance in 2012, the building had to be abandoned, which led to the perfect location for a new study space that was pushed in 2012 by students.

“A survey went around and students said study space is their number one inhibitor to success,” Blake Murphy, chair of Newell Hall Student Advisory Board said. “So, we had this beautiful empty building, and we went to administration, and they said whoever could find the money to renovate the building can have it.”

During that time, different departments were trying to scrap funding together while students went to the state legislator, did letter-writing campaigns and took buses filled with students to Tallahassee to lobby.

Murphy said the legislature supplied a direct appropriation of $10 million and UF president Machen was so impressed with the efforts and donated another $5 million. With that money, all of this was brought together.

The whole story from beginning to end – 2012 to now – was a student idea. It was a student-led and student-accomplished mission to create a new space for peers.

“It’s for students and it’s by students, and we’re excited to get it up and open,” Murphy said.

If you look around the halls you’ll see the history of Newell and all the different functions the building has served throughout time.

“We’re proud of the history and we tried to include that as much as we can.” Murphy said.

The insides got carved out down to the drywall and brick -- anything you see is pretty much new. Old marks of prior walls line the floors throughout the building, representing the preservation of history dating back to the 1940s.  On the second floor, there will be a feature table that’s hand-made out of the original fourth-floor radiators and reclaimed wood.

Newell uniquely features a basement that’s rare for Florida. The basement will now house air conditioning units, which is a first for the hall. The hall features an intelligent lighting system which will save energy consumption via sensors that dim the lights based on sunlight and usage at night.

There will be study tables, bean bag chairs, individual study rooms and pods. The space also includes tech features such as tablets, TV’s and monitors.

Murphy said he hoped Newell Hall would be “a tech friendly building that students will be able to use, not just now but hopefully into the future even as technology develops."

The front lawn will feature grass intentionally chosen for comfort to create a study and picnicking space. Trees will be planted and specifically separated enough for hammocks to be set up.

Graphic art will be on walls throughout the floors and stairwells, featuring recent students and the construction workers that have worked to revitalize and renew the old hall.

Newell will also feature Au Bon Pain, a French-inspired restaurant that will offer soups, salads, a bakery and more. In the annex, you may see vines and ivy hanging from the ceilings and pergola.

The new building is now also considered Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)-friendly and will include ADA bathrooms on each floor.

“Outside of Cypress Hall, this is the only building on campus that has an accessible bathroom for students with significant mobility impairments,” James Marini, the project manager of Ajax Building Corporation said.

“The goal is to hire up to 150 new students that will be working here,” Associate Dean of students, Dr. Anthony DeSantis said.

According to DeSantis, the hall is for students by students, who will help run and operate day in and day out. Students can only work 10 hours a week, and at any given time, there will be 5 to 10 students staffed based on usage. A supervisor will also be present.

“We’re hiring right now, we’ve done interviews for the supervisor positions and we’ve made our first round of decisions and notified the first supervisors,” DeSantis said.

The staff of students will welcome everyone that comes in, make sure people have their ID’s (card access at night for security), clean by wiping furniture down and dry erase boards, amongst other duties.

“I want them to also kind of share the history of the building,” DeSantis said.

He hopes that the students utilizing the hall feel  like they're engaging in a caring, welcoming environment.

In addition to the 24/7 staff, there will be students working the dining as well.

According to DeSantis, it’s their job to train the students once they get hired. For some students, this will be the first job they’ve ever had on campus.

There will be a UFPD substation giving a place for police to have a spot central on campus while adding security to the building. There will be approximately 420 people allowed in the building at any given time. This will give officers a chance to interact with students.

Those who have dedicated time and effort into this project are ready to see the hall open. Newell Hall is planned to open for students toward the end of April said Marini.

There will be a grand opening ceremony and students are invited to learn about the history and the space.

Justin is a reporter who can be contacted by calling 386-386-5607 or emailing jptompkins@ufl.edu