A lot on line for College of Charleston as Legislature winds down

Randolph Hall at the College of Charleston. Legislation that would establish a University of Charleston is expected to be voted on this week. The university would offer graduate and post-graduate programs tied to South Carolina's business needs.

COLUMBIA - At the end of this year's legislative session, the College of Charleston could house the state's fourth comprehensive research university, have additional classroom space and still be dealing with the fallout around last summer's freshmen book choice.

There's a lot on the line for the school as the General Assembly hashes out its budget and final pieces of legislation with just six days remaining on the legislative calendar. Gov. Nikki Haley also will have the chance to weigh in with vetoes once the House and Senate come to an agreement.

Shepherding changes at the school will be Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell, the college's new president who is expected to start July 1. He said last week that a bill establishing a newly expanded University of Charleston would allow the school to set its own course.

Sens. Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, and Larry Grooms, R-Charleston, also said that eight-figure donations were a part of the mix, as donors await word whether the bill that would establish the university becomes a reality. If the legislation passes, the university would have a designation as a comprehensive research university. It would offer graduate and post-graduate programs tied to South Carolina's business needs.

The House has passed the legislation and the Senate fast-tracked it last week. It's expected to be voted on this week.

"It allows the college to chart its own future," McConnell said. "We can shape the future instead of being shaped by it."

Also in play is an additional $2 million for the college that would free up office space by renovating and purchasing a building at 176 Lockwood Blvd., which now houses the Department of Employment and Workforce. Those dollars are in the Senate version of the budget on its "wish list," if budget projections turn out rosier than predicted.

If the college does decide it wants to buy a building, the process would include many public steps, including approval from the state's Budget and Control Board, said Mike Robertson, a C of C spokesman.

The college's need for space has grown in recent years. It got approval from the state in the fall to lease 41,000 square feet of space at Fountain Walk, a commercial property on the Cooper River adjacent to the South Carolina Aquarium and within walking distance of the downtown campus. It plans to use the privately owned space as "swing space" while it renovates the Rita Liddy Hollings Science Center and the Simons Center for the Arts. It also will house some computer science programs there.

The lease will cost $9.9 million over the next seven years.

The college also will be adding space for its North Campus and the Lowcountry Graduate Center, currently located in an office complex on International Boulevard, near Charleston International Airport. That site last year was purchased by Boeing Co., which is forcing the center and other tenants to move by the end of August.

A new building is under construction by Holder Properties at 3800 Paramount Drive in North Charleston to house the two programs.

Some classrooms likely will be incomplete when the center moves in August, but all the classrooms the center immediately needs for fall classes will be ready.

The new site is in the Wando Woods community adjacent to Interstate 526 and Dorchester Road, on properties between Paramount Drive and Dorsey Avenue. The 50,000-square-foot space for both programs will cost $8.9 million over the next seven years.

Controversy around last year's summer reading choice, "Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic" also will likely continue to be a part of the discussion. Some lawmakers viewed the book as pornographic because of a illustrated depiction of a lesbian sex scene. The House cut $52,000 from the school, dollars allocated to the summer reading program. The Senate compromised by agreeing to spend that amount on teaching the U.S. Constitution and other key American historical documents.

Both the House and Senate agreed Trident Technical College should get $5 million to get the ball rolling on a proposed $79 million aerospace center that would train workers in that industry. The Senate has included an additional $5 million on its budget "wish list."

"Timely state funding for TTC's Aeronautical Training Center, an important economic development project for the entire state, is critical to meet the needs of suppliers and vendors moving into the region," Trident Tech President Mary Thornley said in a statement.

Also on the line for the region, according to preliminary Senate budget documents: $800,000 or so in funds for The Citadel's engineering and lab equipment. At the Medical University of South Carolina, $1 million for telemedicine and $1 million for mobile cancer screening have been proposed.

Reach Jeremy Borden at 708-5837. Reach Diane Knich at 937-5491.