The man who grew a university

The man who grew a university

By Meredith Rutland

Eugene Brandner/Photo by Jesse S. Jones

Eugene Brandner once believed his career was firmly founded in forestry. Now, he grows buildings.

As an assistant director of UF’s Facilities, Planning and Construction division, he’d seen the Communicore and College of Dentistry buildings go up in the mid-1970s. He helped in the development of the McKnight Brain Institute. And he watched as the Sun Terrace got its new look this year.

After 40 years at UF, he’s planning on retiring. His last day will be Jan. 31.

Born and raised in Shohola, Pa., he moved to Gainesville as a forestry transfer student from Penn State. He spent the next few years as a UF undergraduate.

An adviser pointed him toward architecture, and he latched onto the idea of drawing and designing for a living. He graduated in 1971 with his Bachelor of Architecture degree, an eight-year program that included five years of classes and three years of an internship prior to getting his state board license.

From there, he was hired by UF.

When he came to Gainesville, he thought he’d be greeted by sandy beaches and palm trees. It’s Florida, right? He came to love the city and said he has an immense sense of satisfaction in his job by “just seeing the finished product.”

Brandner said he designed buildings in his early days as a UF employee. Forty years later, his job is to make sure a project stays on track and ends up the way the university pictured it. A. Miles Albertson, associate director of Facilities, Planning and Construction, said Brandner has been one of the cornerstones of the division.

“He has been basically the architect of record for the Health Science Center,” Albertson said.

Twenty-five years ago, Brandner hired Albertson and became his mentor. Without Brandner’s guidance, Albertson said he wouldn’t be where he is today.

“He has been rock solid for 25 years,” Albertson said.

Brandner is past his designing days, but he said he treats every job like it’s a new chance to learn something.

“You never stop learning,” he said. “Every day is different. Every project is different.”

With technology permeating nearly every step of his process, every project is a little more advanced, too. Digital monitors let Physical Plant staff members know when air filters need to be changed and allow them to adjust the air conditioning with the push of a button. The HSC Library’s books have been relocated and many of them are stored online as well.

“You see the books disappearing,” he said. “You see the study areas become more important.”

Usually, about $70 million in projects go through his office a year. Project costs have dipped with the budget, but improvement is constant.

The big thing, he said, is to see the project evolve from an idea on paper to a finished product.

And given how old the current buildings are getting, he had his hands full seeing the numerous renovations to fruition.

But once they’re done, Brandner said, he feels a great sense of joy when people start using the spaces he helped create.

He’s proud of his time at UF, but his humility will ensure he’ll be the last one to brag about it, Albertson said.

“He’s just behind the scenes, always working, always there,” Albertson said. “He’s a great guy.”