COLUMBIA — Students and parents are upset that the University of South Carolina is forcing 255 freshmen to move midyear as the school begins a massive overhaul of its southern campus.
USC needed to move students after the fall semester to avoid higher costs on the $210 million project so it meet a planned fall 2022 opening, university spokesman Jeff Stensland said. The project received final state approval last week.
The school will find on-campus housing for the displaced students living in the 45-year-old Cliff Apartments, he said.
Forcing students to move after the fall semester is disruptive and unfair, parents and students say.
"This is the first time I have been upset or sick since coming to campus," said Kayla Shannon, a freshman Cliff resident from New York who started an online petition to keep the dorm open until the end of the school year. "I feel I don't matter to a university that I started to love."
This year, USC has been touting its new U.S. News & World Report national top ranking for first-year student experience.
"It's kind of ironic," said Shannon, who wonders if her younger sister still wants to come to USC after the forced move.
Jenn Colleluori, a suburban Philadelphia mother whose son lives in Cliff, questioned why USC would put students in a dorm they would close midyear. She said her son made a number of friends in the dorm, including a group of eight other students who meet each Sunday to watch the NFL's Eagles football games.
"Finding those bonds and building that rhythm so early was really satisfying for a parent," Colleluori said. "I just kept hearing good things on his end."
Stensland said USC did not know how long state approvals would take and did not have have a firm start date when classes began this year.
With the final go-ahead, USC wants to avoid having to adjust costs that would force the university to go through another round of lengthy state-mandated reviews, he said. Stensland did not have an amount that could be saved by starting work early next year.
In place of Cliff Apartments, the university is developing four buildings that can accommodate 1,800 students. The project, set to open in 2022, will include a store and coffee shop. USC also plans to replace Bates West and Bates House dorms on the south side of campus in the future.
The new dorms will aid the state's largest college that has been attracting more students every year. USC's enrollment has grown by more the 7,000 students over the past decade to reach 35,000.
USC will put Cliff residents in rooms vacated by students who have left the university, Stensland said. USC admitted more than 6,200 freshmen this year. The school will try to keep roommates together, though some Cliff dorm rooms housed four students.
"It's not ideal timing for the folks who have to move," Stensland said. "Student Housing (department) will do everything they can to help."