University of Florida opens a facility based on Nugent Hall

As the University maintains its status as one of the most accessible college campuses in the nation, one university works to do the same. The University of Florida will create a new residence hall that will offer more accessibility to handicapped students.

The new hall, which will open in August 2015, is modeled after the University’s Nugent Hall.

The UF chose Nugent Hall as an archetype for the Residence Hall Project for a number reasons, one of them being its staff’s ties to Illinois.

“As a former student at the University of Illinois, I’m well aware of the very long commitment and excellent reputation the University has in its regard for having facilities that are accessible and well beyond the ADA (Americans with Disability Act) standards in the United States,” said Dave Kratzer, vice president for student affairs at UF.

Sharon Blansett, assistant to the associate vice president for Student Affairs at UF, said UF housing administrators and the Association of College and University Housing Officers-International referred the project’s team to Beckwith Residential Support Services at Nugent Hall.

“All Student Affairs and Housing staff keep tabs on innovative programs nationwide through regional and national organizations,” Blansett said.

Patricia Malik, director of Beckwith Residential Support Services, said the University is known for innovation and going above and beyond the ADA’s standards.

“The Beckwith Residential Support Services … is not required by law,” Malik said. “The only thing required by law is an accessible room, so what the University of Illinois does, and has done from the beginning, is say, ‘What’s the minimum?’ But we always go beyond the minimum in terms of what’s been practiced and how we can help support students the best we can in terms of accessibility.”

Before finalizing the project, UF housing administrators toured the Nugent facility and talked with University staff to determine how they can build a similar facility at UF. A second visit was with design team members including architects, engineers, the UF ADA Compliance Administrator and UF housing staff, Blansett said.

“UF administrators were interested in both facility and program design elements in order to support students with higher levels of mobility challenges, many of whom may be veterans,” Blansett said.

The new hall at UF will include elements from Nugent Hall such as proximity card readers in elevators, which allow wheelchair users to bump an elevator’s wall for their floor level, hallways that are 8 feet wide and rooms large enough to allow caregivers to live with students, if needed, Kratzer said.

The UF will also include SureHands Lift & Care Systems, which are railroad-like contraptions mounted to the ceiling to help students move around the room and bathroom, and teaching kitchens to help students live independently.

As the UF works toward more advanced accessibility, Malik said the University is always trying to maintain its status of being a leader in accessibility.

“Right now, for example, DRES (Disability Resources and Educational Services) is working with faculty and services, as well as electrical engineering staff, on a remote control elevator project to make elevators (in buildings other than Nugent) accessible to students that cannot reach the button to use them,” Malik said.

Not only is the University working to make the campus physically accessible to students with disabilities, it is also developing more programs to help students succeed in other areas.

“I think that we sometimes forget that the vast majority of people on this campus with disabilities have disabilities that are not (physical),” Malik said. “They’re learning disabilities (or) psychiatric post-traumatic stress disorders, and so we provide a lot of support for those students.”

The University also discussed with UF ways to both recreate Nugent Hall and enhance the facility with new ideas and new technology, which, Malik said, was one of “the best things that (the University) could have done.”

Kratzer commended the University for its assistance with the project.

“I think every place we go, we really credit the University of Illinois and Nugent Hall for being such great partners and helping us and sharing the information that they have gained through the years,” Kratzer said.

Taylor can be reached at [email protected]