University eyes area near Colonial Life Arena for new dorm and classroom buildings

Plans to partner to with private developersPlans to partner to with private developers

ashain@thestate.comSeptember 22, 2012 

Screenshot: Overhead view of the Colonial Life Arena and surrounding area.

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  • USC works on biomass plant fix The University of South Carolina says it is teaming up with Johnson Controls to get working a campus power plant,18 months after a series of breakdowns idled the biomass facility built by the Wisconsin company. “They can’t get the one they have down there to work, so we’re considering the alternatives to getting something that will work,” USC chief financial officer Ed Walton said Friday. “We’re not putting another penny in the plant.” Walton said he will sit down with Johnson Controls officials on Oct. 9. Johnson Controls is paying back USC for the $19.6 million that it cost to build the biomass plant, USC says. The facility was intended to provide 85 percent of the Columbia campus’ energy needs, producing steam by heating a wood byproduct. The plant at Whaley and Sumter streets was supposed to save the school $2.1 million a year in energy costs but operated only 98 out of 534 days after going into operation before it was closed, according to a USC review. Walton said an internal audit of the original plant contract should be released next month – some 11 months after it was announced. Andrew Shain

The University of South Carolina plans to partner with developers to build off-campus-style housing and much-needed classroom space near Colonial Life Arena.

The development would allow the school to capture a piece of the growing off-campus housing market. It also would continue USC’s shift westward toward the Congaree River, already under way with its Greek village, Innovista research area, music school and new Darla Moore School of Business.

“This marks the university’s modern development,” USC president Harris Pastides told school trustees Friday.

By teaming with developers, the school hopes to get new housing and classrooms without adding to its debt load, which has surged past $500 million.

“We’re using private development to build campus,” USC chief financial officer Ed Walton said.

The popularity of a dozen off-campus housing complexes, such as The Woodlands on Shop Road, has spurred USC’s interest in luring back onto campus some of the 22,000 students who now live elsewhere.

The off-campus complexes’ nearly 6,900 beds are 99 percent occupied, school officials said, and another four developments are in planning stages – two not far from the area where USC wants private firms to build.

Developers could build a dorm with more than 500 beds and a building with at least 60,000-square-feet of classroom space by the time school starts in fall 2014, Walton said. Construction could take place on Colonial Life Arena parking lots, nearby playing fields and property behind the fields owned by the school or its foundation.

The projects have a combined estimated construction cost for developers of about $35 million.

The school and developers would share in the profit generated from the dorms and any shops or restaurants that rent space in the buildings, Walton said. USC could sign a long-term lease for the classrooms, he said.

At least three companies, some with housing complexes already in Columbia, have approached school officials about partnering on the dorms, Walton said.

One USC trustee said if the university did not act, private developers would. “This is beyond delivering education; this is a business,” Walton told the trustees.

The privately developed dorms could have some of the same amenities featured in off-campus complexes, which have pools and workout rooms, Walton said. A university dining hall likely will be included in the new dorm, said Dennis Pruitt, USC’s vice president for student affairs.

If USC manages the housing, students will have to follow school rules and the dorms likely will have resident mentors, Pruitt said.

The new dorm is aimed at upperclassmen who want to live closer to the central parts of USC’s campus but want private bedrooms and the chance to live on campus year-round. Freshmen will continue to live in traditional university housing, Pruitt said.

USC has added minimal classroom space as its enrollment has ballooned more than 20 percent, or 5,500 students, in the past decade, Walton said. Its engineering school alone needs 60,000 square feet of additional classroom space.

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