COLUMBIA — Allen University will break ground in two weeks on renovations of a former hospital, once the only medical facility to serve African Americans in Columbia, turning it into classroom space and a memorial to the Emanuel Nine.
The $11 million project restoring the former Good Samaritan-Waverly Hospital is expected to be complete in April 2021, said Dub Taylor, the university's vice president for institutional advancement. The centerpiece of the project will be a newly constructed performance annex to host televised debates focused on civility.
The concept, envisioned by Ernest McNealey, the president of the historically black college, to memorialize the nine victims gunned down by white supremacist Dylann Roof at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, is meant to create "a platform where people can come express views in a civil manner" rather than with violence, Taylor said.
Three of the nine who were murdered at the historic church — state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, the Rev. Daniel Simmons and Tywanza Sanders — were Allen alumni.
"We're just in the beginning stages of fundraising," Taylor said.
Allen bought the building more than 30 years ago with plans for a physical education center. That and other proposals have stalled due to lack of fundraising. Taylor declined to disclose the amount the school has raised to date.
Allen received a $500,000 contribution from the Gregory B. Levett Sr. Family Foundation for the hospital project to bring an education degree program back to the school, Taylor said. That program will be housed on the hospital building's first floor. The school's theology program will move to the third floor with plans for adding a doctorate degree to its curriculum.
The Institute of Civility will be housed in the remaining space with a 200-seat auditorium for debates and classroom space where participants can earn a certificate in civil discourse.
Taylor said the institute could bring more of a national and international audience to Allen University, which has more than 800 students, according to the latest data from the S.C. Commission on Higher Education. Taylor said school officials hope adding the education program could raise enrollment to 1,000 students.
The former hospital, at 2204 Hampton St., cared for patients from 1952 to 1973. When Richland Memorial Hospital opened, Good Samaritan-Waverly, known as “Good Sam,” was unable to compete.
The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.
"I think it’s going to be very exciting," said Catherine Bruce, a local author and activist renovating another historic building two doors down. "I think there’s nothing that we need as much these days as civility."
With the addition of Bruce's project, that block is becoming something of a historic corridor.
On Nov. 21, the Richland County Conservation Commission and Bruce's Tnovsa Global Commons unveiled a historic marker at the former offices of the late Dr. Cyril O. Spann, an African American surgeon and civil rights leader.
At 2214 Hampton is a marker for the Visanska-Starks House, once occupied by jeweler and Jewish community leader Barrett Visanska, founder of the Tree of Life Congregation. The same home was later occupied by John Jacob Starks, Benedict College’s first black president.
Bruce is hopeful the projects will attract more attention and investment to that part of town.
Allen University received unanimous approval for its renovations from Columbia's Design/Development Review Commission on Thursday. The commission and city staff praised the project and its concept.
"I'm just happy to see somebody do something with this building," commission member Harris Cohn said.