Rattlers’ fingerprint all over FAMU’s CASS building

A spacious lobby area greets students when they walk into the CASS building.
Photo by St. Clair Murraine
Miss and Mr. FAMU joined president Larry Robinson for last week’s ribbon cutting ceremony.
Photo by St. Clair Murraine

By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook staff writer

FAMU president Larry Robinson had gone through thanking a list of the heavy hitters whose effort led to completion of the four-month old Center for Access and Student Success complex, when he made a profound statement.

“Let us not forget those who worked with us to arrive at this day, for this will allow us to appreciate their resolve and dedication,” Robinson said in part during his remarks at a ribbon cutting ceremony for the CASS building.

From pushing for the $41 million needed to complete construction of the three-story, 87,000-square-foot building, many individuals involved took the project personally. They were either current students or graduates of the university.

The list includes current state representative Ramon Alexander who kept the financial ball rolling after it was initiated by former representative Alan Williams. In addition to working with their legislative peers, the two FAMU grads also had talks with former governor Rick Scott and current governor Ron DeSantis. 

“I’m proud to be an alum and I’m proud of being a state representative for eight years fighting for projects like this to come out of the ground,” Williams said. “To see students using it makes all that work and negotiating with my colleagues and the governor (Rick Scott) at the time, makes all of that worth it.”

Groundbreaking took place in 2017 for the building that is located at 1735 Wahnish Way, adjacent to the Gaither Gymnasium. It is where students could do “one-stop shopping” for everything, including resources and healthcare.

The building stands out like no other on the campus and has gotten raved reviews for its design. A huge bronze sculpture of a rattler makes it even more a part of the conversation.

“The fact that there were Rattlers involved; I do believe contributed to a successful outcome,” Robinson said. “The quality of the work and the fact that they came in on time and under budget, I think had a lot to do with that pride.”

That pride was obvious as Fredrica Young moved to the lineup for the ribbon cutting photo-op. She’s a 2020 FAMU grad who worked with Ajax Construction as a project engineer.

“I’m so honored and blessed to be a part of this project,” she said. “I couldn’t ask for anything better. This will definitely be one of my best projects ever on my resume.”

Having an engineering and construction program like the one at FAMU made it easy for Ajax to bring students onto the job, said Jay Smith, vice president of the construction company.

“It has allowed us to develop internships and then turn those internships into full construction opportunities,” Smith said.

Ajax was started 64 year ago in Tallahassee by Smith’s grandfather. The FAMU project is one of 28 that the company has had a role in developing mostly in the Southeast.

Apart from some delays in material delivery because of COVID-19, Smith said the other challenges were making the building functional for all that it houses. They had to “make sure all the spaces came together and flowed really well,” he said.

Smith said he was impressed by the passion he saw in the way graduates or interns worked on the project.

“It’s an automatic sense of pride for those students to be working either while they are at school or they are alumni,” he said. “It’s just a sense of pride for them to be a part.”

The vice president of Student Affairs, William Hudson, was one of the first to have his office set up in the building last December. 

“It’s a dream come true to have a one-stop student services facility that the students can be proud of,” he said.

SGA president Xavier McClinton lauded completion of the project. Having such a facility had been a concern with students, going back to his freshman year when he ran for a student senate seat.

“To be able to have this facility that has all in one,” he said, “is a really great privilege for a lot of students that are coming after us.”

Robinson didn’t leave from in front of the building before pointing out the lasting impact that interns and former students will have on the building.

“This is a different side of the campus,” he said. “You just don’t see this all that much. To have so many Rattlers involved in the construction of this building sets a new water mark.”

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