AIKEN — University of South Carolina trustees Thursday approved paying for more than half of a new $80 million law school building with bonds backed by students tuition payments.
The school will look to secure up to $48.1 million in bonds to pay for the building, in the block bounded by Gervais, Pickens, Senate and Bull streets.
USC has raised pledges of about $17 million for the new building, and the amount of bonds is expected to drop as those pledges become checks.
The bond debt also could be reduced if the school gets a federal tax grant aimed at revitalizing low-income neighborhoods and receives pieces of legal settlements won by the state. The law school already is set to receive $2 million from a class-action settlement announced earlier this month.
Other funding will come from a $10 million state bond approved in 1999, including $5 million used for land acquisition, and $10 million in a state appropriation from last year.
USC hopes to open the new law school by 2016 a year before its 150th anniversary. Construction should start in a year.
Trustee Eddie Floyd said Thursday that he was concerned about whether USC had room to add students to pay off the added debt, after a growth spurt that has added 5,500 in enrollment to the Columbia campus in the past decade.
The school is expanding its summer semester this year to give students a chance to take a full course load year-round. It also is working to create classroom space in renovated buildings and new dorms built in partnership with private companies.
We are comfortable, but snug right now, USC president Harris Pastides said. We are not overcrowded.
The universitys debt has more than doubled in the past decade to $512 million, but a report from Barclays this month suggested the school could absorb added debt for planned projects, including the law school.
Law school dean Robert Wilcox called the new law school a 100-year building that will have the flexibility not found in the schools current 40-year-old home along Main Street. The new school will not add many students to its enrollment of 630, Wilcox said.
The law school has been trying to raise money for a new building for 15 years and brought in former S.C. Attorney General Henry McMaster who was being paid $195,000 a year to spearhead fundraising in early 2011. McMaster starts a new contract today that runs through June 30 worth $31,000, Walton said.
The school has raised $3 million which includes the $2 million expected from the court settlement in the past 1½ years, Wilcox said, adding the school has hit the (fundraising capacity) that is realistic at this point.
In trustees also:
• Approved a $15 million plan to renovate Hamilton College, at Pickens and Pendleton streets, that will include transforming an old gym into much-needed classroom space. Replacing windows, the roof and HVAC system will give the building another 30 years of life, USC finance director Ed Walton said. The university has asked the General Assembly to help pay for the project, but the school plans to use its own money if necessary.
• USC remains interested in buying property owned by SCANA across Assembly Street from Capital City Park that could be used for club sport fields or maintenance operations. It also is interested in buying about 300 acres of high ground that was part of the now-scuttled Green Diamond development project off Bluff Road, Walton said. The school also is looking to sell a 1,500-acre plantation that straddles Georgetown and Charleston counties that was a public-health center.
• The university will close a block of Greene Street, from Bull to Pickens streets, for a year starting this summer as the construction staging area for the renovation of the three dorms that make up the Womens Quad. When construction ends in 2014, USC could add the block to the area of Greene Street in front of the Russell House that bans cars from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays, said Derek Gruner, the schools facilities planning director.
• Pastides told trustees he was shocked by recent campus crime, including a sexual assault. He said the school has hired six new police officers, and is looking at cameras and other technological solutions.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story said the $2 million legal settlement did not come from S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson.