Newell Hall, built in 1910 and situated on the corner of Buckman Drive and Stadium Road, is the third oldest building on campus. The building originally housed the Florida Agricultural Experiment Station and was landscaped in order to provide hands-on research and practice for students. Later the facility was operated by the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) as lab and office space. The Building was renovated in 1943, and in 1944 named for entomologist Dr. Wilmon E. Newell, a director of the Station and provost for Agriculture. In 1979, Newell Hall was added to the National Register and in 1989 the facility was added as part of the University of Florida Campus Historic District to the National Register. Newell Hall then went unoccupied and out of service after failing to meet the code requirements necessary occupation.
In 2009 and 2011, students at the University of Florida who completed the Student Experience in the Research University (SERU) Survey listed study space as the single most important thing the university could do to better their educational experience. Citing this information, along with additional testimony, then Student Body President TJ Villamil pitched the idea of a “Library without Books” for Newell Hall to University Administrators, President Bernie Machen, and the Board of Trustees which was met with overwhelming support. However, funding sources were not available at the time.
Later, knowing study space was still a top concern for students, Student Body President Christina Bonarrigo made it her mission to find funding for the project. She continued with the theme of a “Library without Books” and expanded the goals of the facility to include space for Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) students to collaborate in an innovative and creative environment within close proximity to many of their classroom buildings.
Bonarrigo worked with Student Government Director of External Affairs Abby Whiddon, to draft a $15 million request from state legislature. After several meetings in Tallahassee, it became evident the state was interested in public/private partnerships, and would only allocate funds if the University would also contribute. Then President Machen agreed to commit $5 million in private funding if the additional $10 million was obtained from the state. As the budget awaited Governor Scott’s signature, Cory Yeffet succeeded Christina Bonarrigo as Student Body President. Yeffet and his Director of External Affairs, Blake Murphy, worked closely with their representatives in Tallahassee to assure passing of the funding allocation. On June 2, 2014, Governor Scott signed the 2014 budget into law, including the $10 million allocation to the Newell Hall project. Keeping his word, President Machen committed the $5 million in private funding and the rights to occupy and operate Newell Hall.
After funding was secured, Yeffet and Vice President of Student Affairs Dave Kratzer met with Provost Joe Glover and it was agreed upon that the owner and operator of Newell Hall would be the Division of Student Affairs, know now as the Division of Student Life.
On April 17, 2017, three years after receiving funding from the State Legislature and the University, Newell Hall reopened as a 21st century learning space centrally-located on campus to serve all University of Florida students. Throughout the renovation project, three underlying themes were used to guide the process of creating a unique environment:
These three themes were integrated seamlessly throughout the design of Newell Hall. Additionally, the renovations created four specific types of spaces that are located throughout the entire building. These include space for collaboration, focus, interaction and rejuvenation. The design and construction team worked closely with representatives from the UF Student Government and the Dean of Students Office, to create a modern, vibrant interior environment that fosters and encourages student learning, while respecting the tradition of the building’s historic past.
Dr. John Tigert, President of UF, stands in front of Newell Hall in 1944.