University of South Florida Interim President Rhea Law crossed the bay to share a big announcement with St. Petersburg City Council during her update on the state of the university Tuesday.
Law began her presentation by telling the council how USF has made tremendous advancements since the university’s three campuses consolidated into “One USF” last year, hoping to alleviate concerns over what consolidation would mean for the St. Petersburg campus.
“It means more programs,” explained Law. “It means student success. It means better students. It means more support for the community and the kind of research that solves the problems that our community, our state, and in fact our world looks at.”
With that, Law started with the big news first, announcing plans for a new oceanographic science center on the University of South Florida St. Petersburg’s waterfront.
“We are proposing a new center that will make national and international waves,” said Law.
The official name is the USF Interdisciplinary Center for Excellence in Environmental and Oceanographic Sciences – or simply EOS. Law said the state legislature specifically requested such a facility, and USF administrators thought St. Petersburg would be a perfect location and make the most impact.
Law said EOS will host an array of interdisciplinary bachelor’s, master’s and post-doctorate programs. She believes the facility will become a premier destination for world-class students, researchers and professors, and allow for strategic investments from USF and the state to address issues of national and global importance.
“It will be a source of enormous pride,” Law stated. “Throughout all of USF, throughout this community, and I would say, throughout the state.”
The plans are to demolish the northwest wing of the current USFSP marine science complex and replace it with a four-story addition. The university will remodel the remainder of the complex to accommodate research and teaching labs, and classrooms for the undergraduate and graduate programs.
Law told city council she worked for USF years ago, long before she went to law school, “and these buildings were old when I was there the first time.
“And they’re really old now, and they need to be renovated,” added Law.
Law believes EOS will allow for the renovations while also making a genuine impact on the area. She said the facility will provide state-of-the-art research space for not only the College of Marine Sciences but also the College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Engineering.
The new center will make waves throughout the region in other areas as well, with Law announcing the Florida Flood Hub for Applied Research and Innovation will also call the new center home.
“This endeavor has hugely important ramifications for our coastal communities,” said Law. “In fact, coastal communities throughout the entire country.”
Law said the Florida Flood Hub was a top priority for Florida Speaker of the House Chris Sprowls and will establish a base for expertise in coastal resiliency that will serve the entire state. She added the hub will generate research on the effects of sea-level rise and high-tide flooding events, and make the findings more accessible to policymakers and the general public.
Furthermore, the flood hub will establish a new data visualization center that will provide crucial information for better forecasting models, and to identify flooding hazards and assess economic impact.
The price tag on the new center is $80 million, and Law said USF requested $30 million from the state legislature this year to begin construction, and will ask for $30 million to continue construction next year. She also asked for the council’s help to secure state funding.
“We believe that your support, and the support of this community, will help us be successful in working with our legislative leaders to receive the vital funding for this transformative building and its operational investment,” Law said to the council.
“I believe it is essential to speak with one voice.”
Law said the remaining $20 million balance for EOS has to come from the private sector and reiterated the need for support from the community and local officials to emphasize the importance of the project.
Councilmember Gina Driscoll told Law that support for EOS and its funding is a legislative priority for the council and they are fully committed to being “one voice.”
Council Chair Ed Montanari said he will soon make a trip to Tallahassee “and would love to be a forceful advocate for making this happen.”
Later Tuesday evening, USFSP Regional Chancellor Martin Tadlock could not contain his excitement for EOS when addressing the crowd at the Innovation District’s annual State of the Science event, held in the Student Center Ballroom at USFSP.
“I am so excited about an $80 million request that USF is putting forward to establish in St. Petersburg – here on this campus – a Center for Excellence in Environmental and Oceanographic Sciences,” announced Tadlock. “To make this the place in the United States for anyone who wants to study and do research on environmental concerns, the blue-green economy and oceanographic sciences.”
City Council unanimously approved a resolution supporting the new center.