COLUMBIA — The University of South Carolina has taken the first step toward building a new $300 million health care campus for its School of Medicine.
A committee of the USC Board of Trustees on March 12 unanimously recommended the school spend $4.2 million on a development plan for the proposed 16-acre site in the BullStreet District that would house a new 130,000-square-foot medical school and a separate 162,000-square-foot research and laboratory building.
The proposal is believed to be the largest high-dollar project undertaken at any South Carolina public college, topping Clemson University's $212 million Douthit Hills housing project and $106.5 million spent on USC's own Darla Moore School of Business building.
The action still needs full board approval, as well as go-aheads from the Commission on Higher Education, the lawmaker-led Joint Bond Review Committee and the State Fiscal Accountability Authority before to the bidding process can begin.
"This is really a day of significance for the School of Medicine," USC architect Derek Gruner told trustees.
If the full board gives its blessing on this first phase as expected, developers would come back with design proposals for the structures to be built on donated land in the burgeoning BullStreet District on the former site of the S.C. Department of Mental Health.
The site is near Prisma Health Richland Hospital, a partner with the university.
Gruner said he expects the board will be able to select the developer a year from now. In addition to the medical school and research facility, the plan would also identify space for the development of other possible health campus buildings and a future parking structure, he said.
"I talk to a lot of students that want to come to medical school," said board member Dr. Eddie Floyd, a retired heart surgeon from Florence who has been a proponent of the project. "With the facilities we have now, we are last in the state of South Carolina. If we don't improve it we are in trouble."
The move to BullStreet also is of particular importance because the USC School of Medicine’s lease with the Department of Veteran Affairs for its current Garners Ferry Road site ends in 2030.
The Garners Ferry building, which dates to the 1930s, needs $75 million in improvements, university officials previously estimated. And the rent is expected to increase to between $7 million and $8 million a year under a new rental agreement, up from the $1 the school currently pays. The VA hospital also needs the space for its own expanding operations, Gruner said.
In addition to medical school, USC is also making moves on another major construction project: the $210 million Campus Village housing development.
The school's current on-campus residential capacity is 7,337 beds, and an additional 584 beds in the university-owned 650 Lincoln apartment building. By comparison, the school enrolled 7,750 new freshmen and transfer students in the fall.
The board approved the addition of Campus Village, which includes four new residential halls with a total of 1,808 beds, about 15 months ago, with the goal of being able to house all of its growing freshman population and a larger number of sophomores on campus.
Then COVID-19 arrived in the Palmetto State, forcing the university to close campus and move classes online. The pandemic-induced economic downturn threw future enrollment and the need for the new buildings into question, and last June the board put the project on hold.
But applications for the coming fall have rebounded, up 21 percent for the school's flagship campus, according to USC President Bob Caslen. So the project has restarted with the demolition of Cliff Apartments.
"It's come down with remarkable speed in the last couple weeks," Gruner said.
When students leave in May, construction is expected to begin in earnest.
"We're looking forward to seeing cranes on the Columbia skyline again," he said.