April 30, 2014

$127.8 million in USC projects headed to state regulators

The University of South Carolina is asking state higher education regulators to approve $127.8 million in new projects, including renovation of five dorms, and construction of a new student health center and a new indoor tennis facility.

The University of South Carolina is asking state higher education regulators to approve $127.8 million in new projects, including renovation of five dorms, and construction of a new student health center and a new indoor tennis facility.

Work on some projects should start later this year or next year, though much of the construction is slated for 2016 and 2017, including renovating the soon-to-be vacated law school.

USC and other state public colleges are putting their construction plans before the S.C. Commission on Higher Education on Thursday. Clemson University has nearly $400 million in plans, including a major housing project, a new business school building and the renovation of Littlejohn Coliseum.

University projects also must win approval from a pair of legislative and state administration budget panels as well as get approval from school trustees.

Schools lay out a schedule “so everyone can see that we have a plan and can see what we have on the horizon,” USC spokesman Wes Hickman said.

The higher education commission also will see a list of longer-range projects at colleges, including a $125 million renovation to convert the Carolina Coliseum into a student service center, student union and classrooms. The school does not have a starting date for the long-term project, which USC’s board has not approved.

“We’re providing world-class facilities that students want and they deserve,” Hickman said.

Money for dorms comes mainly from housing fees collected from students. Other work is paid for by from the school’s general school funds and bonds, debt that it issues. Athletics projects are paid with money raised from Gamecocks contracts and ticket sales.

Some state lawmakers, however, are worried about growing debt and rising tuition rates at state public colleges.

Debt at USC’s Columbia campus has more than doubled to $434.8 million since 2004, according to a report given to school trustees last week. The state’s flagship college has spent $600 million on new construction and renovations during president Harris Pastides’ five-year tenure.

“The debt is equated into tuition and fees,” said House Ways and Means chairman Brian White, R-Anderson. “If you look at it from that aspect, you could lower tuition.”

USC students pay a fee in their tuition to cover bonded debt payments – $376 per semester for in-state students and $759 for out-of-state students, Hickman said.

That fee has risen by 25 percent, or $76 for in-state students, over the past five years, he said. That’s roughly the same increase as in tuition over that time, according to state data.

The list of latest work brought before the higher education commission includes a continuation of USC’s massive makeover of its dorms.

The school is working to improve living quarters as its enrollment has grown by 4,500 students since 2008 to a record 32,000. The school says its student body has grown to compensate for reductions in state funding that started when the economy soured six years ago. The number of freshmen passed 5,000 last fall for the first time.

A $34 million renovation of the Women’s Quad is nearing completion, bringing the total spent on major dorm projects to more than $130 million since 2009.

The next projects include renovation on two dorms around USC’s historic Horseshoe, Rutledge College and LeGare/Pinckney at a cost of $15.8 million, according to information from the S.C. Commission on Higher Education.

Work on Rutledge will begin in the last half of 2015, while LeGare/Pinckney will be renovated starting in the first half of 2016.

The 40-year-old Bates West dorm will get $30.5 million in work, including a new floor layout that will increase its capacity to 585 students from 387. Work is scheduled for 2016-17, according to commission data.

Two more dorms – South Tower and Capstone – will receive bathroom renovations within the next three years at a combined cost of $6.7 million.

Other work USC has on its list before the board:

Building a new Student Health Center that will go near the Russell House at a cost of $27.5 million. Work should start next year, Hickman said.

•  Buying 14 acres from SCANA on Assembly Street across from Capital City Stadium for $5 million next year. The school wants to move its facilities management offices and shops, and vehicle fleet parking from Greene Street to the site. The land also could be used for recreational fields near the Athletics Village.
•  Renovating the old law school on Main Street into the new home of the Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Management, now in the Carolina Coliseum. The project will cost $25 million. A new $80 million law school is scheduled to open in 2016.
•  Developing a recreational-vehicle lot at the former State Farmers Market site for game-day parking at a cost of $3 million and building a new indoor tennis facility priced at $6 million.

Some USC projects planned over the next three years with estimated costs and starting dates:

Student Health Center construction – $27.5 million (2014-15)

Rutledge College and LeGare/Pinckney dorm renovations – $15.8 million (2015-16)

State Farmers Market game-day parking site work – $3 million (2015-16)

Law school building redevelopment – $25 million (2016-17)

Bates West dorm renovation – $30.5 million (2016-17)

Indoor tennis facility construction – $6 million (2016-17)

SOURCES: S.C. Commission on Higher Education, USC

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