College of Charleston leaders breathed a sigh of relief Tuesday when their plan to expand to the Cooper River waterfront got a green light from the state.
The college soon will use space at Fountain Walk, a commercial property on the Cooper River adjacent to the South Carolina Aquarium and within walking distance of the downtown campus. It plans to use the privately owned space for classrooms and laboratories. The Budget and Control Board unanimously approved the lease, which it was considering for the second time.
The school will lease 41,000 square feet of space for $9.9 million over the next seven years. The cost also will cover utilities and janitorial services.
The college will use the property as “swing space” while it renovates the Rita Liddy Hollings Science Center and the Simons Center for the Arts. It also will house some computer science programs there.
“We're absolutely thrilled, said George Hynd, the college's provost. “Renovating the science center will be a game-changer for the college's science programs,” he said.
Hynd said the location also is perfect for computer science programs because it is close to two city-sponsored technology incubators. College of Charleston students and faculty can make connections with businesses that have high software needs, he said.
The college originally came before the Budget and Control Board on June 28 with its request to lease the space from R.E.R. Investments Limited Co. John Rivers, one of the company's owners, has close ties to the college and is a previous donor. The plan, however, was shot down with a 3-2 vote because school leaders hadn't sought proposals from other landlords.
Steve Osborne, the college's executive vice president for business affairs, said that after the plan was declined, the school put out a request for proposals to other landlords. But, the only company that responded, and that also met the college's requirements, was R.E.R. Investments Limited Co. Two other companies responded but their properties were too far from the campus, Osborne said.
He also said the space needs to be converted to classrooms and labs, but it should be ready by the summer.
The board unanimously approved the new plan, which school leaders estimate will save $250,000 over the next seven years. The original plan was for a contract of only $9.1 million, but that didn't include janitorial services or utilities,
Gov. Nikki Haley, one of the board's five members, said the board did the right thing when it pushed the college to consider other landlords. “It looks like we got a lower price because of it,” she said. “It just goes to show you that options matter.”
Mike Auerbach, dean of the School of Sciences and Mathematics, has said the Hollings Science Center desperately needs the renovation. The building has had a string of issues since its early days, especially with moisture, and its heating and air conditioning systems. Several years ago the science center also had problems with mold.
Reach Diane Knich at 937-5491 or on Twitter @dianeknich.