Residence halls overhaul

University of SC renovating dorms, building apartments to attract students

ashain@thestate.comFebruary 11, 2013 

  • USC home makeover University of South Carolina housing projects on the drawing board:
    Residence Hall Beds Work Year Projected cost
    Preston College235Student baths/rooms2013$1.5 million
    South Tower391Mechanical/heating-air conditioning2013-14$6.7 million
    Women’s Quad (1)550Renovation2013-14$27.2 million
    Apartments (two projects)840 bedsNew construction2014 (2)TBD
    Greek houses240 bedsNew constructionTBDTBD

    Other residence halls under consideration for renovation, redevelopment or replacement: Bates House, Bates West, Carolina Gardens, Cliff Apartments, McBryde, Thornwell and Roost. (1) Women’s Quad consists of McClintock, Sims and Wade Hampton halls. (2) Date for first 400 plus-bed project in partnership with a private developer

— University of South Carolina freshman Laurin Beckroge chose to live in recently renovated Patterson Hall because of its bigger rooms, airy open lobby and larger kitchens and common areas. The $32.5 million makeover has the feel of a hotel.

Next door, the 56-year-old McClintock residence hall — one of three dorms that make up the Women’s Quad — is more cramped, from the hallways to the rooms. Residents say the air conditioning doesn’t always work and door handles fall off.

“When I walked in, I just got a headache,” Beckroge said of visiting the Women’s Quad dorms. “Just wasn’t nice.”

McClintock and sister dorms Sims and Wade Hampton, which make up the 551-bed Women’s Quad, will be closed next school year while undergoing a $27.2 million makeover.

The work is part of the effort by the state’s flagship university to renovate residence halls to have the modern rooms and other amenities that attract students. USC also has plans to add rooms via a public-private partnership that would build apartment buildings.

USC has spent $94.6 million on housing work at Patterson and five other residence halls completed in the past four years. The Honors College residence that replaced the Honeycombs accounted for half of that amount.

More than half of the school’s 25 dorms could get work. The school has plans to renovate seven more dorms with 1,270 rooms by 2015 at a cost of at least $35.4 million. Another seven residence halls are proposed for redevelopment or replacement in the future.

A master housing plan, released in 2010, said nearly $200 million was needed for residence-hall work through 2022. Under that plan, the school’s profits from housing could more than double to $26 million a year in 2022 due to higher revenues and expense savings, such as replacing outdated heating and cooling systems.

Like athletics and parking, university housing operations pay for themselves, USC chief financial officer Ed Walton said. “That’s the 21st century business model for higher education.”

Rooms to grow

USC is working on the most pressing projects in its housing plan first.

While the Women’s Quad will be closed for renovations, the 423-bed, 48-year-old South Tower will undergo renovations that will not require closing the hall.

USC houses about 6,500 students in campus residence halls. Another 700 live in the Greek Village.

The master plan said the school was more than 800 beds short of the dorm space that it needed for its enrollment, which has increased in recent years as the school has sought to offset lost state funding. The campus has 5,600 more students than a decade ago, including freshmen classes that reach 4,600. All freshmen are required to live on campus.

USC has plans to make up that shortage. Next year’s work will connect the three dorms in the Women’s Quad and add 50 beds.

The school also plans to partner with private developers to build apartment complexes with 840 beds. One complex will go in the parking lot behind the Carolina Coliseum and could open in fall 2014. Another could go in the parking lot behind the new Moore School building.

Six new Greek houses that could add 240 more beds could go in a parking lot across Blossom Street from the Greek Village, USC vice president for student affairs Dennis Pruitt said. No timetable has been set.

The new construction will see USC extend its campus west of Assembly Street, including the new Moore School of Business building, which opens at year’s end, and the Innovista research campus.

The public-private apartments, seen by school officials as a quick way to add new housing, would compete with off-campus complexes that now have 11,000 beds.

Four more proposed private projects — some within walking distance of USC’s planned apartments — could add another 2,400 students.

“If we did not have the private developers off campus, we would not have been able to expand the size of the university,” Pruitt said. “Some people (think) we have disdain for these companies (because of behavior problems). All we want them to do is run their housing in highest standards as possible.”

Suite life

USC is joining the building boom to accommodate juniors and seniors who want to live off campus. Using land that it owns and partnering with a private developer, the school can offer a living location — that includes classrooms and perhaps stores — that is closer to its campus than other private developments.

Apartments and suites — two rooms connected with a bathroom — are what students want and expect, said Gene Luna, USC’s associate vice president for housing and student development.

Two-thirds of the rooms at South Carolina were in traditional halls, like McClintock, about 15 years ago, he said. Now, about three of every four USC dorm rooms are suites or apartments, and the number of traditional dorm rooms will shrink with additional work.

While some dorms will get renovated, some halls could be torn down and replaced, such as the 531-bed Bates House and 250-bed McBryde, Luna said. No final decisions have been made.

Not all students are eager to lose the older dorms.

LaPortia Jones, a sophomore nursing major, lived in Patterson as a freshman but prefers the community feel in McClintock and hopes that won’t get lost in the makeover.

“Here, you can keep your door open and talk to people passing by,” Jones said. “It’s a more open environment. It automatically seemed comfortable.”

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