BALOG COLUMN: S.C. State's Transportation Center has problems, but also promise
Google is expanding in Berkeley County; Boeing is expanding in North Charleston.
Clemson’s Wind Turbine Drivetrain Testing Facility in North Charleston is under construction. And the Transportation Center at S.C. State University is … an overgrown storage shed.
Actually, that’s the transit center, the only one of the buildings at the complex to be built so far. It’s an air-conditioning building that, strangely enough, isn’t even air-conditioned, because the chiller plant isn’t finished or connected to the rest of the space, as Diane Knich reported Sunday. Sen. Robert Ford, who was among those who called for the audit of the Transportation Center and its missing millions, calls the building by an unflattering nickname, Project Cool Breeze.
But Ford also warned against using a broad brush to paint the entire school in a negative light.
“You cannot punish the whole school for one department,” he said.
And that’s fair. There’s a hardworking student body that wants a quality education, and there are faculty and staff who want to be proud of where they work. And Ford says there’s a lot to be proud of. “The other schools and other parts of the college should not have to suffer because of the Transportation Center.”
Ford says he’s going to ask Attorney General Eric Holder to appoint an independent prosecutor. He says that’s a sure way to get the federal audit released. “Then everything will fall into place,” he says.
The transportation center has potential, but at this point it’s unknown when or if that can be realized. What a great success story it could be for the so-called Corridor of Shame to have a viable research facility. Instead, here it is, virtually no jobs created and mired in controversy.
The Southern Rural Transportation Center is supposed to be a place for figuring out viable transportation alternatives for Orangeburg County.
The center’s goals are exactly the kind of thing South Carolina needs, like recruiting and training minorities and women to enter the transportation workforce and providing opportunities for faculty to conduct transportation-related research.
All it takes, of course, is people, time and money.
Glimmer of hope
Kenneth Lewis has the unenviable task of trying to make it work. The former dean of the College of Science, Mathematics and Engineering Technology, ousted by former president George Cooper, has returned to the school to work at the center, with a goal of securing grant funding to accomplish some of those things. That’s no easy task, since the S.C. Department of Transportation branded the center as a “high-risk grantee.”
But Lewis has the determination and background to get it done.
He led his department when they created the a bachelor of science in nuclear engineering — the only undergraduate degree program of its kind in the state, and the only program of its kind at a historically black college or university. He is a well-respected nuclear engineer, a distinguished alumnus of the College of Engineering at his alma mater, the University of Illinois.
If he can be optimistic, maybe the rest of the state can, too.
Reach Melanie Balog at 937-5565 or firstname.lastname@example.org.