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College life goes luxe at Saint Leo University

Published:   |   Updated: May 16, 2013 at 07:47 PM

When Saint Leo University opened a new residence hall this semester, the rooms filled up fast as students put in their bids for the coveted space.

Small wonder.

This is a college dormitory like few others.

The amenities in the common areas include a 2,100-gallon aquarium designed by the stars of the TV show "Tanked," a relaxation room with spherical nap pods that look like they were swiped from a "Star Trek" set, four big-screen televisions, a fitness room with treadmills and other equipment, and a game room with pool tables, pinball, Foosball and video games.

"It's ridiculously amazing," said Jack Constant, a 19-year-old sophomore who hails from New Jersey. "Compared to freshman year and other dorms on campus, it is over the top. I don't think you'd see it in any other college."

The new 135,000-square-foot dormitory complex is actually two buildings that share a lighted courtyard and can provide suite-style housing to more than 300 students.

One of the buildings, housing 157 students, opened for use at the start of the fall semester, which began Aug. 27. The other won't be ready for students to live in until next fall.

The complex, built at a cost of $22 million, is more than just a place to sleep and study. All those amenities make it a go-to place for entertainment, relaxation, exercise and social interaction.

"These buildings have already become the living room of our campus and we've only been here three weeks," said Kenneth Posner, associate vice president of student services.

A centerpiece of the dormitory lounge is the fish tank, constructed during the taping of an episode of "Tanked," an Animal Planet series that features Wayde King and Brett Raymer, owners of Las Vegas-based Acrylic Tank Manufacturing.

The university is slated to appear on an episode of "Tanked" in November, Posner said.

The tank is not yet fully stocked. Eventually its inhabitants will include 25 lionfish, a nod to the university's Lions mascot.

If viewing sea creatures is not restful enough, a relaxation room features EnergyPods that give students 20 minutes of undisturbed nap or meditation time.

The student lies down on what vaguely resembles a recliner. A dome encircles the student's head and upper body and soothing music plays.

"I've fallen asleep in here a couple of times," said Bryan Morales, a sophomore and residence assistant in the dorm.

Morales was among the students who gave tours to the public this week when the college held a dedication ceremony for the new buildings, which are getting enthusiastic reviews from occupants.

Harrison Klerk, a 20-year-old junior from Polk County, said the rooms are a "little echoey," but other than that he has no complaints. He likes that there is lots of space and plenty of electrical outlets.

Sophomore Allen Lizardo, 20, a Dominican Republic native who graduated from Hudson High School, said it's nice to have all those bonus features the facility provides, even if they aren't necessities.

"We don't need four TVs in one room, but we'll take it," he said.

The two upscale residence halls are part of a capital-improvements effort at the university.

A year ago, Saint Leo opened a four-story building for its school of business. The university also recently added a two-level parking garage with a roof that doubles as a soon-to-be completed soccer/lacrosse field with artificial turf. (813) 371-1853 Twitter: @rblairTrib