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Campus sanctuary on the way

A campus religious center is scheduled to be built in the surrounding woods at UNF, and up to four religious centers could be built on campus as part of UNF’s 10-year Master Plan.

The Hidden Lake Project includes a proposed campus sanctuary that would be built on the southeast portion of campus, UNF President John Delaney said. It would be available for a number of different, non-denominational purposes such as receptions, small music concerts, student and alumni weddings and for individual meditation.

Vice President of Administration and Finance Shari Shuman said the project is estimated to cost $6.5 million.

Lease arrangements have been discussed, but the funding of the actual construction projects are in the hands of interested religious organizations in the area, she said.

The four religious centers have been on UNF’s Master Plan, but their placement will be updated next year landing them next to Osprey Fountains on Osprey Ridge Road, Shuman said.

Although having the ecumenical center would serve many religious groups on campus, it would not be able to serve the general student population alone. Faculty and staff at a town hall meeting in February questioned how minority groups would be served, said Tom Serwatka, UNF vice president and chief of staff.

“We decided we needed to have both, where some groups can have their own,” he said. “And for those groups that don’t have those resources, we could have another center that could be used based on availability.”

The UNF Facilities Planning and Construction office has a project listed to meet those needs.

Dr. Mauricio Gonzalez, vice president of Student Affairs, said other religious groups might benefit from the proximity of these religious centers in times of crises.

“At the other universities where I have worked, religious centers were located close by, and personnel from those centers were critical in the aftermath of a campus crises or local or national situation affecting large numbers of students,” he said.

Depending on demographics and other factors surrounding other state universities, some schools might have religious centers on-campus or very near them if off-campus.

“We have land that we can provide, as where a lot of campuses don’t,” Shuman said.

Delaney said the religious centers other than the Hidden Lake Project would be denomination-specific and paid for by the individual organizations.

A Baptist Student Center, a Catholic Student Center and/or a Jewish Student Center might be possible if those religious organizations can come up with the needed funding to pay for the construction, he said.

Under the proposal, each of the religious organizations would pay to lease land from the university – currently a one-time $75,000 payment up front, Shuman said.

Father Frank Corbishley, University of Miami Episcopal Center chaplain warned that UNF might have problems making the project a reality because UNF serves so many commuter students who may have a home church elsewhere.

“I think they would spend less money on commuter students,” Corbishley said about possible investors.

He also said UNF might find itself needing to make a decision if the general public wished to participate, which could turn the student centers into community congregations.

Serwatka said the lease agreement clearly states the facilities are not to become a community church.

“The lease says that if it reverts to that, UNF can take it over,” he said.

Serwatka anticipates many more students will be living on campus and said if UNF is to become a destination school, it should find ways to welcome and meet the needs of students.

But a recent town hall meeting with faculty and staff was a good indication of the differences in opinion between outside stakeholders.

Lance Beauchamp, director of Baptist Collegiate Ministries Jacksonville said that is the last thing they want to do.

“We do not want to isolate ourselves from the rest of campus; we actually want to be a part of campus,” Beauchamp said. “A lot of people look at religious buildings as something separate.”

Kathleen Bagg-Morgan, director of communications for the Diocese of St. Augustine that serves the Jacksonville area, said her congregation would rather have students be a part of the Blessed Trinity Parish, Beach Blvd. rather than something separate.

She also said the Diocese is fiscally hurting, and building something akin to a Newman center on campus is not realistic at this time.

E-mail Jonathan Morales at [email protected].

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