USC Opens its Wallet for Projects


Trustees to pay for tens of millions of dollars in upgrades, new facilities with fee hikes, existing funds

Apr. 12, 2008


USC will pay for tens of millions of dollars in campus renovations and new facilities with existing revenues and increased student fees, university trustees decided Friday.

The university has hoped for several years to persuade the General Assembly to issue taxpayer-funded bonds to pay for the campus improvements. But lawmakers again this year made it clear there would be no bond bill, and university officials decided they could not wait.

USC trustees set in motion construction of new Athletic Department facilities, renovation and addition of sprinkler systems in major academic and residential buildings and relocation of two historic houses on campus.

The historic houses on a remnant of Henderson Street, adjacent to Gambrell Hall, are slated to be moved to lots facing Greene Street and renovated.

Both are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. One was built in 1914 and covers 5,000 square feet. The other, built in 1860 and altered in 1913, is about 9,000 square feet. One is believed to have been built with beams removed from Trinity Cathedral.

Chief Financial Officer Rick Kelly said there are two interested parties. One would renovate the houses to become residences. The other is a religious organization.

Kelly said USC President Andrew Sorensen is talking with neighborhood representatives to ensure there is no objection to the house-relocation plan. He wants the community to sign off on the plan, which would allow USC to build a new structure in the space the houses occupy.

Moving the historic homes to face Greene Street would help restore some of the tree-lined street’s residential character, said John Stucker, past president of the University Hill Neighborhood Association.

“That’s exactly what we’ve been asking them to do for a very long time,” said Stucker. “Those houses have been neglected by the university for years. There’s no reason to believe those houses will succeed where they are.”

Stucker said the association has said — pending resolution of the details — it would support construction of a new university structure on the site once the homes are removed.

A generation ago, USC pushed across Pickens Street, into the University Hill neighborhood, forcing the sale of many homes to the university. Those homes were razed and academic and dormitory buildings were put up in their place. Today, the university no longer uses its power as a government agency to take real estate around the campus, and seeks cooperation of the neighborhood when planning changes.

The buildings slated for renovation include:

• An $18 million upgrade of the Health Science building at Sumter and Greene streets. Trustees approved $1.8 million for design.

• A $32 million renovation of Patterson Hall to convert it to suite-style living; $3.2 million was approved for design work.

• Fire-protection renovation (sprinklers) for Preston College residence; $280,000 was approved for design work.

• Fire protection renovation (sprinklers) for DeSaussure building, built in 1809 and the second-oldest building on campus; $350,000 was approved for design work.

New construction, in the area where the old Sarge Frye baseball field will be razed south of Whaley Street, will include:

• A $12 million athletic Academic Enrichment Center

• A $4.5 million garage and maintenance facility; $650,000 was approved for design work.

• A $20 million Coaches Support Building; $2 million was approved for design work.

• A $7.5 million athletic venue for tennis and lacrosse; $750,000 was approved for design work.

• Athletic village infrastructure (water, sewer, power, etc.) development; $1.2 million was approved for design work.

• And $450,000 was approved for a feasibility study to design a Sports Medicine facility.

Before Friday’s commitments, USC already was in the midst of an unprecedented $316 million construction spurt in downtown Columbia — with 20 projects under way or on the drawing board.

The Patterson Hall renovation will convert a traditional nine-story dormitory into a suite-style residence hall and learning center.

USC officials have said such modernizations are necessary for campus housing to compete with nearby apartments on the private housing market.

More campus housing is needed to preserve the high percentage of students who traditionally have lived on campus, trustees and student leaders agreed.

Andrew Gaeckle, the newly elected student-government president, said students are concerned about the reduced number of on-campus residences.

“The students want more housing on campus,” said Gaeckle, who sits on the board of trustees because of his office. “It’s a pressing issue for students.”

Modernizing older dorms will result in a net loss of on-campus beds. For example, the $32 million renovation of Patterson Hall, a 600-bed dorm on Bull Street, will eliminate 100 beds in the conversion to suites.

Trustee William Hubbard, chairman of the Building and Grounds Committee, assured Gaeckle that keeping a high percentage of students on campus is still a priority for trustees.

“We realize we must be very careful about taking beds offline,” Hubbard said.


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