Sarasota-Manatee campus expansion will create opportunities for students

Building on the USFSM campus

An architect’s rendering of the planned nursing/STEM instruction space at the Sarasota-Manatee campus. [Illustration: Courtesy USF Sarasota-Manatee campus].

By MARC MASFERRER | USF Sarasota-Manatee campus

USF'S PRESENCE IN SARASOTA-MANATEE started humbly in the early 1970s, with the college sending teachers to the area for night classes in education, business and the liberal arts, the classrooms borrowed from local high schools. Even after the USF System assumed control of New College of Florida in 1975, USF in Sarasota-Manatee did not have a campus, let alone a building, to call its own, sharing space with New College of Florida on its campus for more than 30 years.

In 2006, five years after the Florida Legislature had split the governance of the two schools, USF Sarasota-Manatee reached a defining moment in its history with the christening of the Crosley Campus Center. The USF Sarasota-Manatee campus, fueled by growth in enrollment, new academic programs and community support, evolved into a $130-million-a-year economic powerhouse for the region.

The building, with its iconic rotunda, remains the centerpiece of the campus along Sarasota Bay and across U.S. 41 from Sarasota Bradenton International Airport.

The campus is now on the eve of a new, even more exciting era, thanks to two planned major expansion projects worth more than $100 million.

Together, a nursing/STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) building and a residence hall/student center complex promise to physically transform the campus by doubling the amount of space for living, learning, research and other activities.

The USF Board of Trustees and the Florida Board of Governors have approved construction of the housing/student center complex. And early next year, the Sarasota-Manatee campus will launch a multi-million dollar capital campaign in support of the nursing/STEM building.

“We are at a pivotal moment in the history of our campus, and what we can offer to our students and faculty, and the entire community,” campus Regional Chancellor Karen Holbrook says. “With the support of our friends and supporters, we will build a new and more vigorous campus experience and invest in a new generation of thought leaders for Sarasota-Manatee and beyond.”

USF’s Sarasota-Manatee campus has run out of space
The move up U.S. 41 to its own facilities was the catalyst for a period of unprecedented growth at the USF Sarasota-Manatee campus. Enrollment boomed, new course offerings and other programs were added and demand increased for a quality, affordable education as USF’s academic reputation rose. The two-county region grew from a population of about 590,000 in 2000 to 827,000 in 2020 and prospered, and so did the only four-year research university in the area. 

Whether on its own or since consolidation two years ago, the campus has become a desired destination for students. As a result, the 130,000-square-foot Crosley Campus Center is bursting at the seams.

Addressing that need to grow and transforming what it means academically for students and faculty alike are goals for the USF officials planning and designing the nursing/STEM building.

Surveys show that STEM buildings, which typically include high-tech labs that allow for groundbreaking research, are what prospective students want to see during campus tours and can drive their decision on which university to attend. Similarly, STEM buildings help attract and retain faculty.

The $61.7 million, 75,000-square-foot nursing/STEM building, to be erected just west of the Crosley Campus Center and on the north side of the campus courtyard, will double the size of the campus nursing program; increase new majors in the health disciplines and other programs; and fill the need on campus for large classrooms, teaching and clinical labs and research facilities.

Beyond meeting USF’s needs, it will allow the campus to better address heightened demand in the local marketplace, and beyond, for more nurses, business professionals, scientists, engineers and other professionals.

The need in Sarasota-Manatee for some of these workers is great. For example, Sarasota Memorial Hospital, one of the area’s largest employers, recently announced it had recruited more than 50 nurses and other medical workers from the Philippines because of a national worker shortage in the U.S. exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The nursing/STEM building will signal students, parents, funding agencies, friends and donors that the USF Sarasota-Manatee campus is committed to providing a contemporary, high-quality educational experience supporting the community’s demand for more nurses and science and technology graduates with the knowledge and skills needed to enter the talent pipeline,” Holbrook says.

Earlier this year, the Florida Legislature and Gov. Ron DeSantis approved an initial $3 million appropriation for the building. Additional funding will come from the state, as well as proceeds from the annual Brunch on the Bay fundraisers and most importantly, a capital campaign set to start in 2023.

USFSM campus

An architect’s rendering of the planned housing/student center complex at the Sarasota-Manatee campus. [Illustration: Courtesy USF Sarasota-Manatee campus]

On-campus living
In the fall of 2024, when as many as 200 students move into the new residence hall, the campus will be able to shed the moniker of “commuter college.”

A combined housing and student center complex will be built along Seagate Drive just west of the Crosley Campus Center and across the courtyard from where the nursing/STEM building will be constructed. A groundbreaking is expected early next year.

USF expects the housing/student center complex will create a new living-learning environment for students, grow on-campus engagement and, like the nursing/STEM building, boost student recruitment and retention efforts.

“The new housing and student center is crucial to supporting the growth of the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee campus,” USF President Rhea Law says. “This new project will allow the campus to strengthen the overall student experience as it continues expanding its academic program offerings in high-demand fields.”

The six-story building will have two parts. The student center, on the bottom two floors, will feature a new bookstore and spaces for dining, lounges and meeting rooms. Student housing on the top four floors will feature various apartment-style configurations, with shared bathrooms, living spaces and kitchens or kitchenettes. 

Holbrook says the building will bring an added sense of vibrancy to campus.

“Our students have often told us they would like to live on campus and enjoy a traditional college experience. The new student center and residence hall will transform our campus and provide our students with new opportunities for success,” Holbrook says. “This project has been considered for several years, and I’m grateful to President Law for helping bring it to fruition, and to the USF Board of Trustees and the Board of Governors for their support.”

In a study that was updated last May, a USF consultant reported that for many students, living on campus would be more affordable than many off-campus options in the area, one of the most expensive rental markets of similar size in the country. This fall, more students than ever before are living on USF’s campuses in Tampa and St. Petersburg.

Construction is expected to cost approximately $39 million. USF will contribute $16.5 million, with the remaining funding coming from the sale of up to $30 million in bonds through the USF Financing Corp. The bonds will be repaid with revenue from the USF Housing System, as well as $200,000 a year in activity and service fees collected on the campus.

The campus has experienced non-stop growth since it opened. Rick Piccolo, chair of the Sarasota-Manatee Campus Board and a member of the USF Board of Trustees, has witnessed much of it from his perch as president of Sarasota Bradenton International Airport.

“It has been exciting to watch what is happening at the Sarasota-Manatee campus thanks to the hard work of the USF administration and others, and to consider what the future holds for the school,” Piccolo says. “The entire community should be thrilled with the support we have received from the governor, the local legislative delegation, the Board of Governors and other leaders, and with USF’s plans to become an even more essential part of our wonderful community.” 

Visit to learn more about USF’s expansion at the Sarasota-Manatee campus.