The College of Charleston is considering taking over the only school in America that offers a bachelor's degree in the traditional building arts, including plastering, ironwork and masonry.
College of Charleston President George Benson told members of the Board of Trustees at its recent meeting that the American College of the Building Arts is "limping along" financially, and the public college is making plans to absorb it if necessary.
"Charleston needs this program," Benson said, "and we're in a position to help it keep this program."
The private liberal arts college educates and trains artisans in the traditional building arts and encourages historic preservation.
While Benson is preparing for the possibility of folding it into the College of Charleston,
John Paul Huguley, the founder of the American College of the Building Arts, said he strongly prefers that the school remain an independent nonprofit organization.
The College of Charleston's Faculty Senate recently approved a proposal for a curriculum and new major in "historic preservation and the building arts," and the Board of Trustees agreed to the proposal at its Friday meeting.
The major would include many aspects of the College of the Building Arts' program. College of Charleston leaders said they took the step to be prepared if the plan to absorb the building arts school moves forward.
The plan also would require approval from the state's Commission on Higher Education.
Pierre Manigault, chairman of the building arts school's Board of Trustees, said fundraising has been difficult in the economic downturn. Manigault is also chairman of the board of the Evening Post Publishing Co., which produces The Post and Courier.
He has had informal discussions with officials at the College of Charleston about the possibility of folding the building arts college into the College of Charleston. "It's certainly a viable option," Manigault said.
"But nobody at the College of Charleston has come to us with a proposal," he said. "If the College of Charleston came to us with a proposal, we would certainly entertain it."
It's possible that the college could put forth a proposal that would benefit both schools, Manigault said.
He added that no plan is in the works to close the American College of the Building Arts.
Huguley said the school has 43 students enrolled. It opened in 2005, and was in the planning stages for many years before that, he said.
Tuition brings in about 20 percent of the $2.2 million required to run the school each year, and school leaders still need to raise nearly $2 million each year, he said. The college would need to enroll 140 students to bring in enough tuition money to cover operating expenses, he said.
Huguley said he thinks the college is doing well for the relatively short time it has been open. "We're building a nonprofit, not running it," he said.
He wants the school to remain independent, he said, because a public institution might not be as committed to keeping the program alive.
But, he said, "we would be very comfortable having a collaboration with the College of Charleston." He said he could imagine students being able to take classes at the American College of the Building Arts and the College of Charleston.
Huguley said that 14 years ago, the school had no students, no money, just an idea. But it is really taking shape, he said. "The machine is moving along."