Gov. Ron DeSantis has slashed $75 million worth of funds previously allocated to start building the University of South Florida’s new Environmental and Oceanographic Sciences Research and Teaching Facility.
The project fell victim to the Governor’s veto pen despite being a priority of House Speaker Chris Sprowls. The funding was set to help the university start building the facility on its St. Petersburg campus after it announced plans for the project in January. The center’s mission is to address “the existential challenges created by climate change, including sea level rise, high tide flooding events and other coastal hazards.”
The total cost of the project is estimated at $80.3 million, according to the university, with at least $20 million coming from USF, as recommended by the Florida Board of Governors. But it may have to be put on hold now that 93% of its funding is out of reach. The facility itself is expected to generate tens of millions in economic impact annually.
The veto has already sparked criticism from some legislators. State Rep. Ben Diamond, a St. Petersburg Democrat, said in a statement that he was “outraged” at the cut, calling it a “devastating loss for St. Petersburg residents and all Floridians.”
“This center would have made St. Petersburg the preeminent hub for marine science research and instruction, and would have been a critical economic driver for our city – attracting federal research money, new jobs and new private sector partnerships and innovation. This funding was a top priority of the University of South Florida because it was a smart investment in the future of our state,” Diamond said in a statement. “As sea levels continue to rise, we must equip researchers with the tools and facilities to combat this enormous threat. While the Governor’s veto is a significant loss for the University of South Florida and the Tampa Bay region, I am committed to doing everything in my power to ensure USF’s vision for this project becomes a reality.”
The funds were meant to be used to demolish the northwest wing of the existing Marine Science Complex at 830 First St. South in St. Pete and replace it with a new four-story addition. The remainder of the 80-year-old complex would be remodeled to accommodate research labs, teaching labs and classrooms for new programs.
In addition to providing state-of-the-art research and instructional space for students from the colleges of Marine Science, Arts and Sciences, and Engineering, the facility is also supposed to house the Florida Flood Hub for Applied Research and Innovation — a priority championed by Sprowls.
It builds on the university’s current College of Marine Science and was set to bring a variety of new undergraduate and graduate programs in the fields of environment, oceanography and sustainability.
The research conducted at the center is meant to be done in ways that are accessible to policymakers, planners, elected officials and the general public, according to the university. Some of the new degrees the center hopes to offer include coastal and ocean engineering, science journalism, a master’s of business administration focused on sustainability and marine science-related businesses, and environmental chemistry.
Based in Tampa with campuses in St. Pete and Sarasota, the university is home to more than 50,000 students.