UNF approves fee increase for an estimated $40 million wellness center


The UNF Student Fee Assessment Committee convened a special meeting Feb. 22 to approve the beginning of what is to become a near $40 million wellness center in place of the Dottie Dorion Fitness Center.

To fund the fitness center, UNF must ask students to pay a special fee of $3 per credit hour. For people taking 12 credit hours, this increases their bill by $36 per semester. Since this exceeds the amount the university can legally raise the fee, the state legislature must approve the move.

The committee had to convene as soon as possible because the state legislature meets the first week of March. The vote to approve the $3 earmark was approved but not unanimously at first.

UNF Student Body President John Barnes refused to continue with the meeting until it got a unanimous vote.

After more deliberation, the committee unanimously agreed on $3. The bare minimum needed to go to state legislature was $2.50.

The person who spoke up the most, Mark Smith, a voting student representative and the office manager for the Center For Student Media, expressed great interest in having the extra 50 cents. The extra 50 cents would go a long way and isn’t that much extra for the students to pay, Smith said.

“[Without the 50 cents] we would build the building and not be able to operate it,” he said.

The university is going to send its lobbyist, Vice President of Governmental Affairs Janet Owen, to Tallahassee and to try to get the state legislature to approve the earmark. If the earmark is approved, either the next step will be to let the money add up and then use it, or ask the state for a bond and then use the earmark to pay back the bond.

The proposal to increase student fees is new, but not the plans for a new wellness center.

“We have been talking about it for two years,” Barnes said.

Barnes only has to vote in a tie, but he said he’s in favor of the $3.

“I am against fees that I don’t see where the money is going, but I see where it’s going,” he said. “This fee is directly going to benefit the students.”

It was noted in the meeting that it is not guaranteed the legislature will agree to this increase and even if it does, the governor still has the power to veto. If it is not passed or vetoed, the university officials can still use the Capital Improvement Trust Fund money for the first phase, if they choose that is where they want to apply the CITF.

The state can take back this money this year if it is not used.

“This will really slow down the process,” Smith said.

Student Body Vice President Mike Saathoff, who is running for student body president in this semester’s elections, said another possibility for the CITF funding is Greek housing or the intramural fields.

“Delaney has a gentleman’s agreement with Student Government to put the money into the wellness center,” he said.

Zak Ovadia presented the committee with a design of the center in three phases. The first phase will cost $4 million and will be mostly underground prep work. The second phase will cost $16 million and the third phase will cost $19 million.

There was much argument over what should be in phase two instead of phase three.

At this point, with the $4.5 million from the CITF and the student fee, the university can only afford the first two phases.

Vice President of Student and International Affairs Dr. Mauricio Gonzalez noted throughout the meeting that the students can change the plans as they wish.

The university is still negotiating exactly what will be accomplished in each phase, and the Spinnaker will inform you of all updates.