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A proposed USF marine science center survives DeSantis' budget vetoes

 USF building with boats and water in the foreground
Carl Lisciandrello
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WUSF Public Media
According to USF, the new Environmental and Oceanographic Sciences Research and Teaching facility on the St. Petersburg campus will expand the College of Marine Science as a way to study climate change, sea level rise and other coastal hazards.

Among the items approved in Florida's 2023-24 fiscal year budget are a new Environmental and Oceanographic Sciences Research and Teaching facility on the USF St. Petersburg campus.

A year after it didn't make it into the state budget, a new Environmental and Oceanographic Sciences Research and Teaching facility can now move forward at the University of South Florida's St. Petersburg campus.

Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the budget for the 2023-24 fiscal year Thursday, and this time his list of vetoes did not include $24.3 million that would go toward the facility.

"This facility will enhance St. Petersburg as a world-class center of marine and environmental science, education and community engagement," USF President Rhea Law said in a statement.

It was a number of USF-related items Law highlighted in the budget, including:

  • A $63.3 million increase to USF's operating budget to support the university's three campuses and USF Health.
  • $14 million to go toward a clinical trial of hyperbaric oxygen therapy’s medical effectiveness in treating post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries among veterans and active-duty military service members. 
  • An $85 million increase to the state's investment in university performance-based funding, of which Law estimates will result in a $14.7 million increase for USF.

Thursday's announcement comes weeks after USF accepted an invitation to join the prestigious Association of American Universities (AAU), made up of some of the leading research institutions in the country.

Two onlookers admire a modern, rectangular building with glass windows wrapping around its corner.
University of South Florida
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Courtesy
USF St. Petersburg unveiled photos for its new Environmental and Oceanographic Research and Teaching Facility in January 2022.

"The funding will help us continue to excel in student and faculty success, grow our research profile, make a greater impact on the Tampa Bay region and the state of Florida, support our quest to become a top 25 public university and our position as a new member of the Association of American Universities," Law said in the statement.

The goal of the oceanographic research facility will be to expand the College of Marine Science as a way to study climate change, sea level rise and other coastal hazards, according to a 2022 USF news release.

“What this innovative, groundbreaking center of excellence will achieve can be summed up in a single word – impact,” Law said in the release. “It will make an enormous difference for our students, our faculty and our community, and is poised to make waves both nationally and internationally.”

The $80 million project calls for a new building at USF St. Petersburg that will create a space for graduate and undergraduate studies from the colleges of Marine Science, Arts and Sciences and Engineering.

It will also be the home of the Florida Flood Hub for Applied Research and Innovation, which was approved by the Legislature in 2020.

While Law touted those budget items, she noted some items that DeSantis vetoed:

  • $20 million that would have gone toward construction of a new Academic Nursing STEM facility on the Sarasota-Manatee campus
  • $2.9 million for the Department of Mental Health Law and Policy to develop tools to improve response and treatment of opioid use and overdoses.
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