Vote delayed on bonds to fund USC renovations

03/05/2013 9:52 PM

03/05/2013 10:17 PM

The University of South Carolina might have to postpone renovating three dorms after questions from a State Budget and Control Board member delayed voting Tuesday on a $34 million bond to pay for the project.

The delay has heightened concerns at the state’s flagship university about future projects set to be paid with bonds, including $12 million for an indoor football practice facility and up to $48 million for a new law school.

House Ways and Means chairman Brian White, who sits on the board, said after the meeting Tuesday that he raised questions on the dorm bonds over USC’s rising amount of debt and potential impact the federal sequester could have on enrollment if student loans are hit.

“We don’t want to have a domino effect,” the Anderson Republican said.

White did not get all the answers in time before the budget meeting, and the bond vote was withdrawn. The source of the questions was not known at the meeting.

The board is not scheduled to meet again until May when the 15-month construction project was slated to start.

The postponement could prevent the dorms from reopening in fall 2014, though the school will see whether contractors could complete the work in a shorter timeframe, USC chief financial officer Ed Walton said.

White said he would support holding a special budget board meeting before May to vote on the bond once his remaining questions are answered.

The State Budget and Control Board is the final hurdle for funding the dorm work. The board had given preliminary approval for the renovation, and two other state groups had approved the bonds.

State Comptroller General Richard Eckstrom, another budget board member, said the renovations are needed after a recent visit to the dorms, ranging in age from 54 to 74 years.

The makeover of the Sims, McClintock and Wade Hampton dorms that make up the Women’s Quad in the center of campus would add 50 beds to the 550-bed dorms to help with a housing shortage from an enrollment spurt over the past decade.

The dorms for freshman women were scheduled to be empty during the 2013-14 school year for the renovation and they may not be filled for 2014-15 if the opening is pushed back because students might not want to move midterm, Walton said.

USC could keep the dorms open another year and start the project in spring 2014 if the bonds are approved, but nothing has been decided, Walton said.

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