Student Activity Center delayed by economy, Rat could stay open throughout fall

FREEZE: An artist's rendering of the proposed Student Activity Center. Due to the credit crisis, construction on the building will be halted one year.
FREEZE: An artist's rendering of the proposed Student Activity Center. Due to the credit crisis, construction on the building will be halted one year. MIAMI.EDU

The worsening economy is bittersweet for students at the University of Miami.

The Rathskeller, originally planned to close in spring 2009, will remain open the rest of the spring semester and more than likely into the fall semester as well.

The decision was finalized Wednesday by President Donna E. Shalala, who sent out an e-mail Monday to the university community explaining how the university will cope with economic turmoil.

In a letter sent out to student leaders today, Shalala expressed her disappointment towards the delay of not only the Rathskeller, but the construction of the Student Activity Center (SAC) as well.

“In consultation with our university financial and construction leaders, I regretfully have concluded that we must delay construction of the new Student Activities Center until 2010,” Shalala wrote.

“It’s unfortunate that this project has to be delayed, but if the credit market gets better, construction of the Student Activity Center could possibly begin earlier than next spring,” said Patricia A. Whitely, vice president for Student Affairs. “We’re still very excited about the project and are working on the permitting process and moving forward.”

This means that the construction of the SAC is now set to be completed in the summer of 2012.

And because the SAC is now deferred, the new $150 student activity fee will not be implemented until the 2010-2011 school year, when construction begins. The university is also actively fundraising to raise the rest of the money needed.

According to Richard Walker, assistant vice president for Student Affairs, only $4.2 million has been raised for the $20 million goal for the center.

Shalala wrote in her letter that it would be “unwise for the University to undertake the additional debt of the magnitude necessary to build the Student Activities Center.”

The university planned features for the SAC based on surveys filled out by students in March 2006. The UM student body also voted to implement the new fee for the creation of the center, which is not uncommon at many universities to help pay for projects that benefit students for years to come.

More than 10,000 square feet are planned for student organizations, a banner-making center, media center, an outdoor corner terrace and meeting rooms.

The plan also allots a room for functions that will seat 800 people so students will no longer have to go off campus for major events.

The University Center Patio will also be renovated to include more shade from trees, umbrellas, awnings and canopies. The stage near the lake will be moved to the loading dock and long stairs will be built to create an amphitheatre effect.

But even besides the one year postponements of the SAC and the Rathskeller, Shalala was pleased to announce that plans for the Herbert Wellness Center expansion will continue. The current timeline calls for the expansion to begin in spring 2009 and to be completed by June 2010.

Proposed Timetable

Student Activity Center construction: to begin spring 2010; to end summer 2012

Wellness Center expansion: to begin spring 2009; to end June 2010

Rathskeller: open until May 2009, possibly into fall 2009 semester