University of Miami unveils new $46.5 million Student Activities Center

08/21/2013 7:51 PM

08/22/2013 2:34 PM

Students arrived on the University of Miami campus this week to find a MIA favorite has returned — grander, snazzier and yet refreshingly familiar.

The ‘Rat’ is back and the rebuilt two-story Rathskeller, which opened Wednesday, is part of the new decade-in-the-making $46.5 million Student Activities Center on the Coral Gables campus.

The 119,368-square-foot campus hub, designed by Arquitectonica and built by Fort Lauderdale-based Moss & Associates, features four food and drink spots, a student media suite that houses the campus newspaper and magazine, a 500-seat ballroom center and individual offices and study rooms for campus groups, including the Winston P. Warrior United Black Students Office and Federación de Estudiantes Cubanos.

“This was a 10-year project and was the vision of President Shalala in 2003 to build a brand new student center on the lake and to tear down the Rat and to place a new Rat inside the building,” said Pat Whitely, vice president for student affairs. “Over the years we worked on the programming and the students became our partners in 2006. We’ll have the kind of space necessary to support student programs.”

Currently there are 280 undergraduate student organizations, and another 90 organizations for graduate students and the law school.

“So, it’s for all of their use,” Whitely said.

Count senior Bhumi Patel, 21, among the impressed.

“It’s the best thing we could ask for and something that was definitely needed,” said Patel, the Student Government president. “The university is constantly growing and evolving. We needed a student center that was up to par with a prestigious university.”

The Student Government offices are also housed inside the building.

Student Bar President Jenna Winchester, 24, also envisions a space where law students can not only study and Skype lectures but set up cases in one of the large multi-purpose rooms. The center is near the law school.

“There is a lot of promise in that room,” third-year law student Winchester said. “The center has been entirely focused on students and the school and university have done a good job and made sure everything is geared to making campus life better for students.”

The new SAC is adjacent to the 195,000-square-foot University Center, which gives the campus a combined indoor student culture space that tops 314,000 square feet. This is in addition to the original 50-meter pool and diving complex, the renovated UC Stage/Patio, and the Foote Green and breezeway that ends at the student bookstore and The Rock.

Sergio Gonzalez, senior vice president for advancement and external affairs, calls the SAC “a signature building given its function and purpose.”

About $25 million of the building’s cost, more than half, came from donors to the Momentum 2 campaign. Undergraduate, graduate and law students voted in 2006 to assess a $300-per-year fee to help fund the construction of the SAC and to renovate and expand the adjacent Whitten University Center.

A $20 million gift in 2010 from Bruce and Tracey Berkowitz, chairs of the Fairholme Foundation, helped the project get underway.

Naturally, the Rathskeller, which originally opened in 1973 and had been home to happy hours, homecoming activities and hanging out, enduring until its 2011 closure, remains the hotspot — despite new Starbucks (one of two on campus), Red Mango and M2O eateries. Its original ambience has been recreated, with old posters and frat paddle boards on the walls, along with UM-colored orange pool tables and comfort food like popcorn ‘n’ chili ‘n’ brews.

“The new Rat is a student favorite as far as lounging is concerned,” said Patel, an exercise physiology major. “Unfortunately, they had to tear down the old Rat, and that was sad for some alumni who appreciated the history behind it, but of course the new Rat is bigger and better,” she opines.

Soon Patel will join the ranks of alumni.

“It’s strange to call myself a senior. But this building, as a whole, I don’t know if I’ll ever leave.”

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