By Megan Horan
Less than a mile and a half away from the M.E. Rinker, Sr. School of Construction Management, a group of University of Florida alumni returned to give back to their alma mater.
Hotel ELEO, just steps away from the UF Health Neuromedicine Hospital, UF Health Shands Cancer Hospital and UF Health Heart & Vascular Hospital, opened this past July. Serving as a haven for families of patients in the hospitals, the talk surrounding Hotel ELEO has been about its impressive, hospital-grade cleaning standards. Features from the hotel range from contactless door openings to rooms that are sanitized with an electrostatic sprayer, a device that charges cleaning liquid to help it spread to difficult-to-reach crevices.
However, before guests even enter the hotel, they are first greeted by the stunning building.
“From the moment you arrive at the hotel, you know it is special,” Hotel ELEO General Manager Rich Richardson said. “While buildings are traditionally square or rectangular in shape, Hotel ELEO curves, wrapping around Rush Lake, as if it is hugging or embracing the southern part of campus. The winding shape is graceful with the north-facing part of the building featuring all glass.”
Albert Alfonso, the design principal for the project from Alfonso Architect and a UF College of Design, Construction & Planning alumnus, explained that working on the design, which harkened back to French architect Le Corbusier’s Algiers, was a very personal experience.
“The project site previously housed a hotel designed by one of our mentors, the great Harry Merritt, an architect who taught many of us at UF,” Alfonso said. “So, the fact that this project came as a replacement of Harry’s building was a kind of holy ground for us. This elevated the idea of the design– we knew we had to do something very special.”
Along with Alfonso, more than 40 UF alumni were involved with the creation of Hotel ELEO. Chris DeNome, who served as the owner’s project manager with the Beck Group and graduated from college in 2002, was another one of these alumni.
“The quality of education that you get from UF and Rinker is always top notch,” DeNome said. “A lot of those people are put into leadership positions, so naturally you end up working together on multiple projects throughout your career.
A lot of the alumni took special care and attention to the project. A little more time and effort was put into figuring things out so that at the end of the day, we could come together as a team and be proud of it when we’re walking away.”
DeNome explained that part of why the hotel required so much attention to detail was because those involved worked to create unique features. For example, great pains were taken to add special equipment to the kitchen of the restaurant to aid in cleaning. This special equipment was added to the roof to scrub and clean any of the exhaust coming out of it. This way, there will be no grease on the windows and guest will not leave the restaurant smelling like a steak dinner or a hamburger.
Furthermore, the building as a whole is complex. According to UF graduate Jimmy Falls, who served as the senior structural project manager with Walter P Moore, the curved shape of the building introduced more complicated detailing from a structural side. This made it more difficult to form and for the contractor to build.
Falls had the unique position of being one of the only people who saw the project throughout its entirety, which was about seven years. Because of this, he was able to interact with many people on the project, including Alex Biggs, his mentor and a fellow alumni.
“Working with Alex and DCP alumni on Hotel ELEO reminds me how connected humans are to each other,” Falls said. “The structural engineer exists because the architect, contractor, farmer and laborer also exist. We are a community, and remembering that we need each other to thrive is really important.”
Many on the project spoke about the sense of community facilitated by working on a project in Gainesville with fellow UF alumni. James Smith from Smith Turlington Contractors, who graduated in 2008, was involved with performing the specialties and Division 10 trades on the job, which includes things like cabinet installations and restroom fixtures.
“Everyone carries the same element of pride,” Smith said. “This commonality adds a degree of connection between everyone. It adds to the pride of working on a local project when others have the same alma mater.”
According to Richardson, the alumni not only added to the project because of the strong curriculum they experienced, but also because of the special connection there is to be working on a project somewhere that you have lived.
“Our alumni, having lived here and experienced the campus and Gainesville so personally, brought special attention to this unique project,” Richardson said. “They are forever placing their signature on a piece of the University of Florida legacy for future Gators to admire and build their own memories.”