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News Story: La Casita's Farewell

In his senior year of high school, Jose Abastida visited La Casita at the University of Florida for the first time.

On Thursday, he visited it for the last.

Abastida, a 25-year-old political science senior, is one of over 200 UF students who spent time in La Casita on Thursday -- the building’s last day open to the public. It was established in 1994.

“I’ve laughed, cried, studied, stressed out and made some major life decisions in this place,” Abastida said. “This is my space and I can’t believe it’s coming down.”

La Casita, a center for Hispanic-Latino cultures located on West University Avenue, will be torn down and redone beginning in March 2017, according to Gabe Lara, the director of UF Hispanic-Latino Affairs.

The building is expected to reopen in March 2018.

Lara said the building suffers from mold, termites, moisture and structural damage. It has been a safety concern for years, Lara said.

“A gust of wind will blow out a window,” Lara said, “and no more than two people can go upstairs at one time without fear that the balcony will crumble to the ground. The house hasn’t been safe for way too long.”

While construction is underway, events usually held in La Casita will move to the Multicultural and Diversity Affairs center in the Reitz Union, Lara said.

Lara said he plans to meet with architects about the new building after hearing ideas from UF students. He said he wants to include students in the process because many of them see La Casita as their “home away from home.”

“This space is very special,” Lara said. “A lot of students found their identity here and their home here, so we need to recreate that atmosphere the best we can with the new building.”

Right now, one feature of the new building is guaranteed: It will look like a house, Lara said.

“The space we know and love will come back with a vengeance,” Lara said. “And yes, it will still look like a little house.”

Students at UF have mixed reactions to rebuilding La Casita.

Lara said an especially passionate group of UF alumni reached out to him to voice their disapproval -- and asked to preserve the building as a historical site.

“A lot of people just don’t want to see it go,” Lara said. “There are a lot of memories and emotions connected to this space. Trust me, I understand, but we have to put safety over emotions.”

Some students said they think the decision is bittersweet, but necessary.

“I stepped foot in here for the first time in my freshman year,” said Sol Ortega, a 21-year-old UF political science and Spanish senior. “I haven’t left ever since. But it’s time to see the next chapter for this space.”

Ortega said she was at La Casita all day on Thursday.

“The house was packed with people all day long,” Ortega said. “Dancing, laughing, gossipping, taking pictures, reminiscing on stories we all have in this house. It was a great way to say goodbye.”

Priscila Barravecchia, a 22-year-old UF international studies senior, said she feels comforted knowing that the building itself does not make La Casita feel like home -- the people do.

“I’ve spent so many hours of my life in this place,” Barravecchia said, “mostly taking naps upstairs in the library. At the end of the day, though, the home will be wherever the people are.”

Barravecchia said she feels sad, but grateful.

“This house brought us together,” Barravecchia said.

Elle Beecher