C of C poised to lease more space

The College of Charleston is poised to expand to Fountain Walk, a commercial area on the Cooper River adjacent to the South Carolina Aquarium and within walking distance of the downtown campus.

If the state’s Budget and Control Board approves the plan this month, the college would lease 41,000 square feet of academic space in Fountain Walk starting in January. The lease would run for seven years and rent would range from $1.2 million to $1.4 million per year.

Steve Osborne, the college’s executive vice president for business affairs, said the space is needed to house academic programs while two other campus buildings, the Rita Liddy Hollings Science Center and the Simons Center for the Arts, undergo extensive renovations. The school’s computer science department also would be housed there.

Mike Auerbach, dean of the School of Sciences and Mathematics, said he hopes the plan goes through, because the Hollings Science Center desperately needs renovations. “It has had a string of issues since its early days,” Auerbach said.

The center was built in two sections, one of which was completed in 1972 and the other in 1985, he said. “The pieces never fit together very well.”

The building especially has had problems with its heating and air conditioning systems, and with moisture, he said.

Several years ago the science center also had problems with mold.

Osborne said the state’s Joint Bond Review committee approved the college’s plan Wednesday, leaving approval by the Budget and Control Board as the final hurdle.

The college would lease the space from R.E.R. Investments Limited Co. John Rivers, one of the company’s owners, is a previous donor to the college.

Osborne said renovations on the science center will begin next summer. Work on the Simons Center will begin after that, but a date has not been set.

The college looked for other space to lease he said, but it was a challenge to find 41,000 square feet of available space in downtown Charleston.

And even with that much space, it’s going to be a tight fit, he said.

College leaders want to renovate the entire 112,000-square-foot science center at one time, which will save money, he said. “We’re going to make it work.”

The plan moving forward was good news to Auerbach.

The college now has thriving science departments in desperate need of appropriate space, he said. Biology now is one of the school’s most popular majors. “We’re out of space. The time has come.”

Reach Diane Knich at 937-5491 or on Twitter @dianeknich.